- Vice President Joe Biden travels to Iowa, a key state in presidential campaigns
- He speaks at an event for Nuns on the Bus, a social justice campaign
- Biden trails Hillary Clinton in recent polls for the Democratic nomination in 2016
Vice President Joe Biden headlined a small Catholic event Wednesday in Des Moines, Iowa, stoking speculation about his presidential aspirations.
Biden used most of his speech to tout Nuns on the Bus, a group of liberal Catholic nuns who convey their message of social justice on road trips. But his praise for the group came in the form of stressing likely Democratic issues in the midterm elections: the importance of health care and growth of the middle class.
"This nation is stronger when every voice is heard and everyone has a seat at the table," Biden said on the steps of the Iowa Capitol. "Right now, only some of the voices are being heard, and as a result over the last couple of decades, things have gotten out of whack, folks."
To those in the audience, the presidential politics of the vice president's visit were obvious. Biden has admitted he is thinking about running for president, and a recent CNN/ORC International poll found that 15% of Iowa Democrats would like him to be the Democratic nominee in 2016.
The vice president's trip comes on the heels of Hillary Clinton's much-talked about trip Sunday to the Harkin Steak Fry, the annual outdoor fund- raiser run by Sen. Tom Harkin. The visit was Clinton's most obvious step toward a presidential run since leaving the State Department in 2013. In the same CNN/ORC poll, 53% of Iowa Democrats favored the former secretary of state.
"Joe tells it like it is, and we are blessed to have him," said Craig Stark from Clive, Iowa, who said he hopes Biden runs in 2016. As for how he feels about Clinton, Stark said, "Well, we don't have dynasties like Bush dynasties. ... To me we need new blood."
The crowd also featured some of Biden's most ardent supporters from his short-lived 2008 presidential campaign.
"Joe Biden knows how to tell the truth, whether it is the politically correct thing to say or not," said John Olsen, who proudly said he supported Biden in the 2008 caucuses. "You will become a fan of Joe Biden if you ever get a chance to meet him. He is the most personal, down-to-earth, lovable guy."
Clinton's weekend visit was the first time she had been in Iowa since 2008, but Biden is no stranger to the Hawkeye State.
The vice president last visited a year ago when he spoke at the Harkin Steak Fry, the most important annual event for Iowa Democrats that is widely seen as a must-stop for Democrats considering a run at the White House.
"It's amazing when you come to speak at the steak fry, a whole lot of people seem to take notice. I don't know why the hell that is," Biden joked then. "You've attracted the entire national press corps here."
Biden has also made a point to acknowledge Iowa on a regular basis.
Biden called John Lundell, the new mayor of Coralville, Iowa, to congratulate him on his victory in November. And in May, Biden stopped by a party of Iowans in Washington for a lobbying trip.
Wednesday's speech was not Biden's only stop in Iowa. During his visit, the vice president did a rope-line photo session with supporters of local Democratic campaigns, including congressional ones, according to campaign sources in Iowa. The photo session was seen as a perk for supporting local Democrats.
Biden's speech was the kickoff of the latest initiative from Nuns on the Bus in which the group will encourage voters in 36 cities along a 5,252-mile route to turn out and vote in the 2014 midterms.
The vice president focused a great deal on what Democrats are talking about ahead of the election: the poor and middle class.
"Things are out of whack," Biden said about the tax system in the United States. "It comes down to a simple question of fairness. Americans have always done best when we acted as one America. Because when we do, the nation succeeds"
He added: "It is time for a fair tax structure ... one that values hard work as much as inherited wealth. ... It is time to close these tax loopholes, folks."
Nuns on the Bus was also active around the 2012 midterms. The group organized a multistate tour to bring attention to Rep. Paul Ryan's proposed budget cuts for Medicare and other social welfare programs.
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the group behind the bus tour, told CNN that Biden's attendance was meant to encourage civic engagement but said the event was "not partisan."
"Right now, we are just doing what Pope Francis challenges us to do," Campbell said. "He says the heart of the problems of our society and our world is inequality and what we have to do is respond to the needs of the poor and those who are left out."
Campbell didn't comment about Biden's presidential chances, but she said she had an idea about why he agreed to attend the Nuns on the Bus event.
"Every time I have seen him, he tells me that Catholic sisters help keep him Catholic," she said with a laugh. "I think part of the reason he is coming is his own nourishment and his support of us."