- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2019

DES MOINES — Chris Jeffrey smiled and chuckled when he was asked about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s recent stumbles in the 2020 Democratic nomination race.

“He had a rough week — a rough week,” Mr. Jeffrey said as he waited for some of the presidential contenders to speak at the Capital City Pride Festival in Iowa this weekend.

Voters have kept close tabs on Mr. Biden since he announced his presidential bid two months ago, claiming the front-runner’s spot. They also watched recently as Mr. Biden faced allegations of plagiarism and struggled to settle on a single position on a key question about taxpayer funding for abortions.

Mr. Biden for years has backed bills that forbid taxpayer-funded abortion, but he recently told an activist that it was time for a change. Last week, his campaign reversed that position, saying he didn’t support taxpayer funding — and then he reversed again, ending the week by saying Republicans have become so pro-life that he felt compelled to become more pro-choice, so he now supports taxpayer funding.

“I was shocked that he came out first, that he supported it,” said Mr. Jeffrey, 55. “As a Democratic candidate, that obviously is not the position you should have, and he quickly realized that as well too.”



Still, the way Mr. Biden, who has spent more than four decades in the public eye, struggled for footing raised doubts about his authenticity and willingness to shake up the status quo.


SEE ALSO: Sense of urgency: 2020 Democratic candidates fight for Iowa’s attention with absence of Biden


“To go from, you know, anti-abortion to abortion, that is a pretty strong flip of opinion. That is a core belief,” Mr. Jeffrey said. “I feel that you don’t just change overnight.”

It also has opened up the candidate to criticism from some of his rivals, who are reminding voters of their steadfast opposition to the Hyde Amendment, which outlaws taxpayer-funded abortions as well as other efforts to curb abortion services.

“I don’t think there is room in our party for … candidates who don’t support a woman’s full reproductive freedom,” Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York said Sunday at an Iowa Democratic Party forum.

Voters said the shift was too politically convenient for Mr. Biden but they were not surprised by it.

“For someone who has been in politics for so long, I don’t think that was a good look,” said Arlene Brant, 65. “It just kind of made me go ‘Ahhhhhhhhhh.’ It is just poor planning. It is like come on, guys, you should have had that figured out already.”

“That’s why I don’t like him,” said Jackson Linder. “He is not progressive enough for me, but at least he is moving toward the progressives.”

Mr. Linder, 26, described Mr. Biden as the “same old, same old, and like Hillary Clinton all over again.”

Since diving into the race in late April, Mr. Biden has sought to position himself as a front-runner, trying to avoid mixing it up with fellow candidates and casting himself as the inevitable nominee, setting up a two-man affair between him and President Trump.

That strategy has been bolstered by polling showing Democrats believe he is the most electable candidate in the field.

But that scenario doesn’t sit well with liberal activists, who are the most energetic part of the Democratic Party base right now and who take issue with a number of Mr. Biden’s stances over the years.

The 76-year-old has faced blowback over the role he played as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1990s, when he crafted the 1994 crime bill that activists say fueled the mass incarceration of black men. Mr. Biden’s also come under criticism for his handling of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings and Anita Hill’s sexual harassment claims against the nominee.

His votes for the Iraq War and free trade deals also are unpopular on the party’s left.

Still, Skip Moore, a former member of the Des Moines City Council, said there is a lot of goodwill for “Uncle Joe.”

He doubted that last week’s snafus would hurt Mr. Biden but acknowledged the carping.

“Democrats right now are fractured amongst all the different candidates, and if somebody’s got a favorite who is not Biden, of course, they are going to be pointing their finger at Biden,” he said.

There are, however, early signs that Mr. Biden’s armor is starting to show some chinks.

The Des Moines Register and CNN released a survey over the weekend that found an enthusiasm gap. Although Mr. Biden leads the field, his supporters are less enthusiastic about him than other candidates’ backers are about their picks.

“That, to me, is a meaningful gap,” said J. Ann Selzer, who conducted the poll. “Plus he has just got more candidates who are positioned to break through and make a strong case against him.”

The poll also showed Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg within striking distance of Mr. Biden’s lead.

Each of those three spoke Sunday at the Hall of Fame dinner in Cedar Rapids that featured 19 of the presidential candidates — but not Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden is slated to make his second visit as a candidate to Iowa this week.

“He came out of the gate as horse No. 1 — can he sustain it?” Mr. Moore, 65, said. “I don’t know. We will have to wait and see.”

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