Joe Biden arrived in Iowa on Wednesday to deliver a major speech condemning President Donald Trump’s racism and – in an effort to prove his strength as a general election candidate – promising that “we can’t, and I will not, let this man be reelected.”
But soon after that high point, a series of verbal stumbles began for the former vice president. He referred to “white kids” when he meant “wealthy kids” and confused former British Prime Minister Theresa May with Margaret Thatcher on Thursday. Then, on Saturday, he twice claimed to have met with students who survived the Parkland school shooting as vice president, even though that shooting happened more than a year after Biden left office.
Amid those missteps, Biden connected with event-goers with ease on one of his busiest swings through an early-voting primary state yet.
His rollercoaster ride through Iowa for the Democratic front-runner punctuated a reality that was clear over three days in Iowa: Poll results are relatively steady, but on the ground, in the first state that will cast votes next year, the party’s 2020 presidential race still feels wide open.
Less than six months from the Iowa caucuses, a Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers released Thursday found Biden in the lead in Iowa with 28% support, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 19%, California Sen. Kamala Harris at 11%, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 9%, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 8% and all others at 3% or less.
Many of the Democratic candidates descended on Iowa this past weekend for one of the rites of passage on the road to the White House: sweating through a summer day at the Iowa State Fair.
They saw the famous butter cow and flipped pork chops. They ate pork chops on a stick and corn dogs (and fried peanut butter and jelly, in the case of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is a vegan).
Some brought family – like Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, whose son rode go-carts with him, and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose son ribbed her about dropping his corn kernel in a jar bearing his mother’s name at the WHO-TV’s “Cast Your Kernel” contest.
And they all spent 20 minutes standing between hay bales on the Des Moines Register’s Political Soapbox to deliver their stump speeches and field questions from the crowds that gathered around them.
“Look at Trump’s hair. This is the answer. This is the antidote,” the bald Booker joked.
In interviews over three days at the fair, many attendees – many from Iowa, but some from out of state who had come to share the first-in-the-nation caucus state’s up-close view of the presidential primary field – said they were still making up their minds.
That’s the good news for low-polling contenders, like former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, still looking to join the handful of top-tier candidates.
However, there was bad news for those long-shots, too: Most people said they had narrowed their lists to a few candidates to consider – most like at least a couple of the top-polling candidates in the race – and said there are simply too many Democrats running for president.
And even though Democratic candidates are split on some policy issues, such as whether to scrap private insurance in favor of a single-payer “Medicare for All” program, fair attendees said they were more focused on who can beat President Donald Trump.