Before taking the rally stage on Tuesday night, former Vice President Joe Biden met with several attendees backstage at a private meet and greet.
Among the Iowans he spoke with was state Sen. Pam Jochum, who recently lost her 41-year-old daughter Sarah, who had special needs.
“He knew that Sarah had died. He knew it. He said ‘I tried to call you a couple times’ and he said, ‘I wasn’t able to talk to you, but we now belong to the same club – parents who have lost a child,’ and he just said ‘I want you to call me whenever you need someone to talk to, someone who also knows what you’re going through’” Jochum said he told her.
“It touched my heart in ways that only my child has in the past,” she said, adding, he, “just genuinely cares about people and wanted to make sure that I knew that he would be there for me if I needed him.”
Jochum has known Biden for more than three decades and is an example of one of his longtime ties in the state that he could draw on should he run for president in 2020.
Biden’s visit to the early caucus state was brief. He spent fewer than four hours on the ground in Cedar Rapids, a stop designed to help boost several Democratic candidates in the state. Aides to Biden had previously said he would likely avoid making stops in early nominating states like Iowa and New Hampshire to keep the focus on the candidates.
That plan was clearly upended. The trip put him in front of the very voters he would need to court if he launches a run for the White House, and it gave him a chance to preview how he could frame a possible campaign against President Donald Trump.
“My name is Joe Biden and I am here because my friend Abby Finkenauer asked me to be here,” he said as he referred to the Democratic candidate in Iowa’s First Congressional District.
As he rallied a crowd of a thousand people, Biden largely avoided mentioning Trump by name, but he talked about the need for moral leadership, particularly in the wake of last week’s events, including the murder of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Three times this past week the forces of hate and terror have descended on the American political scene, going after people for their political belief, the color of their skin or their religion. Folks we need to recognize that words matter,” he said.
“America is so much better than this. We are so much better than this. I know that sometimes it feels like these days like anger and hatred and viciousness are overwhelming us,” he said. “It’s our leaders that need to set the tone and dial down the temperature, restore some dignity to our national dialogue but it’s also the American people and each one of us has the power to change the tone of our discourse in our lives.”
Biden was in the state campaigning for Finkenauer, a former volunteer coordinator for his 2008 presidential campaign, and the Democratic candidate for governor Fred Hubbell.
“We need more women and men of character like Fred and Abby,” Biden said.
“Today more than ever, the American people are desperately – Democrats and Republicans and independents – they’re looking for people are looking for people with character,” he said. “They’re looking for authenticity. They’re looking for someone who never belittles the other guy, who treats everyone like my dad did with dignity and respect. They’re looking for people to tell the truth.”
As he made his closing pitch to Iowans, Biden laid out what’s at stake in this election.
“The only thing that’s strong enough to tear America apart is America itself and we’ve seen it start and we must make it stop. That’s what Tuesday’s all about,” he said. ” We have to make it clear as Democrats. We choose hope over fear. We choose unity over division. We choose allies over enemies. We choose truth over lies. We choose a brighter future over the desperate grip of the darkest elements of our past have on our ankles. And if we do that, we can still own the 21st century.”
The former vice president is the latest in a string of potential 2020 candidates to descend on Iowa in the final weeks before the mid-term elections.
Biden, who ran for president in 1988 and 2008, has said he will make a decision about 2020 after the midterm elections, but some supporters in Iowa said they’re already eager to see him run.
Daniel Miller, a North Liberty resident who works in the retail industry, donned a vintage Biden presidential campaign shirt he obtained in 2007 at former Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual Steak Fry, a nearly 40-year tradition that was a must-stop for Democratic White House hopefuls. Miller, who only wears the shirt on “special occasions,” said he is all in for Biden in 2020
“I think we need to be loud, vocal and insistent that Joe Biden be a part of the conversation” in 2020, he said.
Cindi Knox, a brain cancer survivor from Waterloo, approached Biden on the ropeline as she wore a t-shirt reading Biden 2020, with the zeros replaced with grey brain cancer ribbons, on the front and bearing the words “Promise me Joe” on the back, a play on his memoir “Promise Me, Dad.” She told him about her battle with brain cancer, the disease which took the life of Biden’s son Beau, and handed him a letter urging him to run.
“I asked him to consider what was best for our country, our party, his family and that he would be OK as Beau asked him to promise,” Knox said.
But over a year out from the Iowa caucuses, not all Biden fans are convinced just yet that he’s the right pick for Democrats heading into 2020.
“I kind of love him using his voice in a more general way. I mean I would definitely vote for him but I like what he’s doing now,” Chloe Howe, a staffing specialist for a contracting company from Cedar Rapids, said. “I’m just focused on this election, the midterm election and then we can worry about that.”
Though she met him early on in 1987, Jochum didn’t support Biden in his 1988 or 2008 presidential bids, instead siding with Michael Dukakis and Barack Obama, respectively. But this time around, she says there’s a chance Biden could earn her support.
“After listening to him speak again tonight, there’s a part of me that says maybe what America needs is Uncle Joe to run,” Jochum said. “I don’t know though. That’s something Joe has to decide what he wants to do.”
“He’d be at the top of my list right now,” she said. “I always have loved Joe Biden. How can you help but not love Joe Biden?”