Biden eyed in Iowa’s role as kingmaker

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His aides know experience is his strength and note the change from his first presidential bid.

“Twenty years ago, we’d go months without a question on foreign affairs,” says Biden adviser David Wilhelm, who was on the senator’s Iowa team in 1987 and worked for candidate Bill Clinton in 1992. “Now, it’s not lost on voters that Joe Biden spoke to [Pakistan’s Pervez] Musharraf before President Bush” did.

Biden staffers - many of whom were on board 20 years ago - are fond of noting that he performed well in 1988 without spending any money on TV ads. He is the only major candidate not yet up on television, but that’s expected to change soon because he just qualified for public financing.

The campaign did produce a full-page “Joe Is Right” newspaper ad in Iowa pulling together all the times that his opponents have agreed with him.

There are also plenty of Biden holdovers who liked him 20 years ago — before he failed to cite a politician whose speech he was quoting and was forced to drop out of the race. He was tied for first place when he ended his run in September 1987.

Mr. Biden praises Iowa as “the only level playing field left in American politics” because you can campaign and be viable with less than $100 million. Being so far behind the front-runners this time around, Mr. Biden hasn’t had to throw any mud, and few attacks have come his way.

“Too many people are looking for an American Idol,” says Marge Himes of Sioux City. “I trust Joe Biden to get us out of this mess.”

Mr. Biden also is able to connect more directly with caucus goers in part because his events are intimate. In Iowa City this past summer, he gripped a woman’s hand and looked her in the eye while answering her question about regime change. He has a habit of touching foreheads with voters when he’s trying to make a point.

Voters also laud him as a straight shooter, something he trumpets before every audience. He told a group of Hispanic voters this fall that he would always speak his mind because “win or lose, I’m going to do this on my own terms.”

Mr. Wilhelm sums up the Biden Iowa strategy by looking at Mrs. Clinton’s declining poll numbers: “Expectations matter, and there are no expectations for him.”

About the Author

Christina Bellantoni

Christina Bellantoni is a White House correspondent for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C., a post she took after covering the 2008 Democratic presidential campaigns. She has been with The Times since 2003, covering state and Congressional politics before moving to national political beat for the 2008 campaign. Bellantoni, a San Jose native, graduated from UC Berkeley with ...

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