Former Vice President is using a high-profile visit to Iowa on Tuesday to excoriate , a preview of what Biden’s campaign hopes will be the general election battle to come.
But Iowa Democrats say they have seen little evidence that Biden or his team are taking the first-in-the-nation caucus state seriously — and, they warn, other candidates have begun eating into the front-runner’s base of support.
Biden still leads the Democratic contingent in Iowa. His lead, however, is slipping. A Des Moines Register-CNN survey conducted last week by Iowa pollster Ann Selzer shows Biden ahead of the field with 24 percent of the vote, down from his 32 percent edge in December before most candidates got into the race.
Sen. (I-Vt.), too, has seen his support slip, while Sen. (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor showed improvements.
“Biden may be polling a little ahead at this point, but other candidates are working harder and engaging the voters,” said JoAnn Hardy, who heads the Cerro Gordo County Democratic Party. “Biden is in danger of being lapped.”
About half of the 10 county Democratic chairmen and women interviewed for this story said they had heard from Biden’s team. Some received emails from a generic account, while others had not heard from the campaign at all.
Sean Bagniewski, who heads the Polk County Democratic Party, the largest local organization in the state, said he had only heard from a Biden representative on Monday, a day ahead of his visit.
“I’ve seen no signs of his presence in our county,” said Daniel Callahan, who heads the Buchanan County Democratic Party. “Most campaigns have reached out to me but not his.”
Biden’s campaign did not respond to several requests for comment.
Biden has held eight events in Iowa over four days, fewer than any other major Democratic contender, according to a tally maintained by the Des Moines Register.
By contrast, Sen. (D-Calif.) has held 21 events, and Sanders has held 27. Warren and Sen. (D-N.J.) have each appeared at more than 30 events.
Biden was the only major candidate to skip the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner this weekend. He opted instead to attend his granddaughter’s high school graduation, a decision most county party chairs said they fully understood.
“A candidate’s attendance at, or absence from, a single campaign event in June 2019 isn’t going to be the reason that candidate does or does not perform well with voters on Feb. 3, 2020,” said Peter Leo, chairman of the Carroll County Democratic Party.
But some see Biden’s relative absence on the campaign trail as a sort of Rose Garden strategy for a nonincumbent, one that allows him to use his front-runner status to stay above the fray.
“I get the feeling that much of his strategy so far is resting on his laurels, which can only go so far in the face of exciting candidates who are actually putting in the face time,” said Brian Bruening, chairman of the Clayton County Democratic Party.
“Warren and Buttigieg are stripping away supporters from Biden on a daily basis. Sanders supporters are committed, and I don’t see them changing to another candidate,” Bruening said. “Biden’s support is the softest because so much of those big polling numbers were based on Obama nostalgia.”
As Biden’s campaign takes shape, other candidates are mounting fierce efforts to organize on the ground. Biden has announced four top Iowa staffers; Sanders has 12 senior staffers in the state, and candidates like Booker and Warren already have teams of more than 50 knocking on doors and holding organizing events.
“Many of the campaigns are having recruitment and focus meetings, phone calling, texting, sending emails, grass-roots fundraising, and participating in local county organizations and events,” said Tim Winter, who heads the Boone County Democratic Party. Winter said he did not even have contact information for Biden’s campaign.
Eight months before Iowa voters meet at caucus locations across the state, Biden has plenty of time to make an impression, Democratic activists said. But so far, the impression he has left is of an absentee front-runner.
“My advice would be to get out to some Iowa county fairs and eat some pork chops on a stick ASAP,” Grundy County Democratic Party chairwoman Tracy Freese said.
Grundy County’s fair begins July 16.