Biden, countering Trump in Iowa, says 'character is on the ballot'


Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race with one key takeaway every weekday and a wrap-up each weekend. Reminder: There are four days until the Iowa caucuses and 278 days until the 2020 election.

In what was billed by his campaign as a prebuttal to the president’s reelection rally in Des Moines a few miles away, former Vice President Joe Biden told voters in Waukee, Iowa, on Thursday morning that “character is on the ballot” in the election in November.

It also served as a closing argument for Biden before Monday’s Iowa caucuses. The former vice president has been at or near the top of most state and local polls for most of the race, but in recent weeks he has been edged out by Sen. Bernie Sanders in Iowa and New Hampshire. Biden told the audience that he is the best-positioned candidate to unify the Democratic Party and defeat Trump.

Biden briefly outlined his positions on health care, climate, gun control and national security.

“All these issues and more are on the ballot,” he said. “But something else is on the ballot. Something even more important. Character is on the ballot. America’s character. I do not believe we’re the dark, angry nation Donald Trump sees in his tweets in the middle of the night.”

Biden has long centered his campaign on what he considers Trump’s unfitness for office — and his own ability to “beat” the president “like a drum.” In contrast, his main rivals spent most of last year focused on policy (Elizabeth “I’ve Got a Plan for That” Warren), ideology (Bernie “Political Revolution” Sanders) or generational change (Pete “Win the Era” Buttigieg). Warren in particular would barely mention Trump’s name during debates.

Yet in the final days before Iowa, the rest of the field seems to have come around to Biden’s view that what will matter most to Iowans on caucus night is who they think has the best chance of toppling Trump — a view validated by pretty much every poll conducted this cycle. According to the latest Des Moines Register survey, for instance, 55 percent of Iowa Democrats say that’s more important than identifying a candidate who shares their positions on the major issues; only 40 percent say the opposite.

Former Vice President Joe Biden arrives to speak at a campaign event in Waukee, near Des Moines, Iowa, January 30, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
Former Vice President Joe Biden arrives to speak at a campaign event in Waukee, near Des Moines, Iowa, January 30, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

And so Biden’s rivals have started to poach his electability argument. On the stump, Sanders has been telling Iowans he is the best-positioned candidate to beat Trump while boasting that the president views him as a threat; his latest ad ends with the words “Protect Social Security. Defeat Donald Trump. Caucus for Bernie Sanders.”

One of Warren’s final ads features a montage of talking heads claiming the Trump campaign actually sees her as its biggest threat; the ad ends with the candidate declaring, “I approve this message because I’m going to beat him.”

Meanwhile, in her speeches, Warren has taken to repeating a new mantra: “Women win.”

“The world changed in 2016,” she said Sunday in Davenport. “Women candidates have been outperforming men candidates — since Donald Trump was elected — in competitive elections.”

And Buttigieg took direct aim at both Biden and Sanders Thursday in Decorah, where he claimed that he offers “a different approach” than both of his rivals and that “the same Washington playbook” won’t “work against a president like Donald Trump, who is new in kind.”

Whether any of these anti-Trump electability arguments click on caucus night remains to be seen. But Biden has a head start. According to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, 82 percent of his Iowa supporters say he has the best chance of beating Trump. Among supporters of other candidates, 79 percent of Sanders backers, 51 percent of Warren supporters and 48 percent of Buttigieg supporters believe their candidate is best positioned to win in November.

On Thursday in Waukee, the former vice president continued to try to close the deal on electability, touting his efforts in 2017 to stop Republicans from repealing the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and campaigning for Democrats in the midterm elections.

“Trump and I have already gone one round with each other on health care,” Biden said. “In 2018, I went into 24 states for 65 candidates. I took on Trump all over the country — and we beat him. In fact, we beat him like a drum.

“We should remember that this year,” he added. “I believe if we take the fight to Trump on Obamacare again, we will beat him again.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Waukee, near Des Moines, Iowa, January 30, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Waukee, near Des Moines, Iowa, January 30, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Biden criticized the president for his attacks on Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist who was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year over Trump.

“I’m going to run on the issue of climate change,” Biden said, “and we’re going to beat him flat out.”

The gaffe-prone former vice president also said he was looking forward to debating Trump in a general election.

“I can hardly wait to debate this man,” he said.

Trump was due to speak at a “Keep America Great” rally in Des Moines on Thursday night.

Biden also trolled Trump, who has refused to release his tax returns.

“In Joe Biden’s America, the president’s tax returns won’t be a secret,” he said.

Biden did not discuss Trump’s ongoing impeachment trial — a case triggered, in part, by the president’s repeated requests for Ukraine to investigate the former vice president and his son Hunter.

Instead, Biden focused on Trump’s fitness and temperament for the office he currently holds. Before the speech, the Biden campaign unveiled a new television ad, titled “Character,” which begins with images of the White House and Oval Office.

“It’s said in here your character is revealed,” the narrator says at the beginning of the 60-second spot. “We saw it with President Obama. We’re seeing it with President Trump.”

Biden concluded his remarks by urging voters to caucus for him.

“I need your help,” he said. “I’m absolutely certain we can repair this country, and we can repair our standing in the world. And we can win the battle for the soul of America. The country’s ready — Democrats, independents and even a lot of Republicans. They know we’re so much better than this.”

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