DES MOINES, Iowa – Joe Biden is bringing his case against President Donald Trump's handling of the coronavirus to one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic.
Iowa has long had one of the nation’s highest rates of infections, and on Friday it reported a record number of cases and hospitalizations from COVID-19, part of a spike being seen in dozens of states. The public health and economic crises resulting from the pandemic are part of why Democrats see an opening in a state that Trump won by nearly 10 points in 2016. It was once seen as a long shot for the party.
During his Friday visit, Biden mentioned those record cases and the economic toll of the pandemic. He said Trump is “waving the white flag" and has “surrendered to the virus.”
“But the American people don't give up,” he told the crowd at a drive-in rally.
“We don't cower — nor do I,” Biden added, promising to enact a plan to “deal with this pandemic responsibly” if elected.
The 200-plus cars packed in a parking lot at the Iowa State Fairgrounds honked and cheered, with supporters leaning out of their windows in the sunny 40-degree weather. The warm reception reflected a remarkable shift for Biden: It was Iowa’s Democratic caucusgoers who nearly wiped out his candidacy in February after delivering him a fourth-place finish in the state’s caucuses. That raised serious questions about his viability at the beginning of the Democratic primary season.
He limped out of the caucuses nearly running out of cash and came in fifth in the New Hampshire primary, only to turn his campaign around in the subsequent contests to become the nominee. Now Democrats have rallied behind Biden, and he enjoys a 2-to-1 cash advantage over Trump.
Matt Paul, who ran Hillary Clinton's Iowa caucus operation in 2016, said Biden has made “a really strong case, since the primary, in disqualifying President Trump.” He also said Biden is a more credible messenger than Trump on the issue voters care about most: health care. Republicans' fumbling of the pandemic may have driven some senior voters that typically support Republicans over to Democrats this time, he added.
“The pandemic has just exacerbated the issue, and it's very clear that voters trust Democrats on health care more than they do Republicans,” he said.
The pandemic remains one of Trump’s greatest weaknesses in Iowa, a state where the virus infected and killed about twice as many people per capita as the national average between Oct. 10 and Oct. 16, according to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. That included a 33% weekly increase in deaths during that period.
Biden also spoke about other issues important to Iowa voters, like the struggles faced by family farmers, severe floods that have swept the Midwest and the trade fight with China.
“I’m going to hold China accountable — which he hasn’t, from the start of the pandemic!" Biden said of Trump.
Iowa is not a must-win for Biden, who is focused on the other states he’s visiting this weekend — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — to deliver a victory. But most surveys of the state show a close race between Biden and Trump, and a loss for the Republican would significantly narrow his path to reelection.
The state holds significance for the battle for Senate control as well. Democrats need to net four seats to take back control of the upper chamber, and in Iowa, Republican Sen. Joni Ernst is locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield, who spoke at Biden’s rally Thursday.
“I’m so fired up because this is a race we can win. And when we win it, we’re going to take back the majority of the United States Senate," Greenfield predicted, adding the race would be “a donnybrook all the way to the finish line.”
Biden also promoted Greenfield in his remarks, noting the similarities between the two — both having lost their spouses — and telling her, “You have no idea how much you're going to make my night when you win.”
The Trump campaign has been working aggressively to defend their hold on Iowa. The president rallied supporters here earlier this month, and his son, Donald Trump Jr., was here for an event earlier this week.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Preya Samundsar noted that Biden had all but ignored the state until recently, and said Iowans would reject the Democratic ticket's "radical agenda.”
“Joe Biden’s decision to visit Iowa after ignoring the state for 271 days is yet another sign that Democrats didn’t learn anything from the 2016 election," she said.
Paul said Democrats in the state expect a close race. But no matter the outcome, they see the turnaround in fortunes as a boost for the party for years to come.
“It’s a remarkable turn of events, even if we lose the state by a couple of points," he said.