MARION, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s closing argument in Iowa is the same as his opening one: I’m your best hope to beat President Trump.
As he traverses the eastern part of the first state to cast votes in the Democratic primary, Biden is largely ignoring Democratic competitors — even those polling ahead of him in Iowa — in favor of pitching his ability to defeat Trump.
“The next president is going to have to be ready on Day One,” he said at a town hall attended by a few hundred people here at the Prairie Hill Pavilion on Monday afternoon. “There’s no time for on-the-job training.”
“The character of the nation is literally going to be on the ballot this time around,” he said earlier at a town hall in Cedar Falls.
That message, it turns out, appears to be predominantly why Iowa voters are turning out for his events, even if he isn’t their top choice.
“There’s any number of candidates. None of them is perfect. But which one is best and who can beat Donald Trump? That’s all we really care about.”
“There’s any number of candidates. None of them is perfect. But which one is best and who can beat Donald Trump? That’s all we really care about,” said undecided voter Mike Barron, 72, who drove from Iowa City with his wife, Kay, to see Biden in Marion.
David Haugebak, 69, who attended the Cedar Falls event with his wife Karolyn, deadpanned when asked about his top issue: “Not Biden. Trump.”
“It would be a disaster, like they said, if there was another term, and so we want to get a Democrat in there and seems like he’s got the experience and, like he said, knows how to fix it,” he said.
The overwhelming sentiment from Democratic voters VICE News spoke to echoed a singular focus: They want Trump out.
“Every time the name Donald Trump came out of his mouth or the subject, everybody was murmuring, ‘Anything is better,’” said Jody Murphy, 49, who lives and works in Marion.
Murphy described herself as a “strong” Biden supporter because he is the “best candidate to win and unite the country.”
She’s not worried about the attacks that Biden has sustained in recent months from President Trump, who regularly criticizes both the former vice president and his son Hunter.
“Actually, I think it puts more of an emphasis on Biden, and so, like I heard before, Biden is renting out space in Trump’s head,” Murphy said. “I really believe it might benefit Biden more and hey, it is free advertising!”
Mike Barron expressed more trepidation about the constant attacks on Biden, most recently at Trump’s impeachment trial Monday when his defense argued there was something worth “looking into” about Hunter Biden’s work on the board of the Ukrainian pipeline company Burisma.
“I do worry about it,” Barron told VICE News as he stood toward the back of the room. “Common sense tells you that he’s [Trump’s] certainly going to pump up his own base with this thought and hopefully expand his base with that.”
Kay Barron, who describes herself as not a “super liberal” Bernie supporter, feels Biden would be exonerated in the Senate trial if witnesses were allowed.
“If the Senate will let there be witnesses, then I think that would go a long way toward maybe convincing a lot of people that there’s nothing to this as far as the Bidens are concerned.”
Nathan Jones, a 23-year-old music student at University of Northern Iowa, says he’s undecided but will likely caucus for former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Biden is probably his second or third choice.
Jones says that when it comes to the general election, he is most concerned about beating Trump, but in the primary phase he still wants to hear candidate plans on healthcare, college affordability, education plans, and military funding.
“I was looking for things to maybe sway me one way or another away from another of those candidates,” he told VICE News, adding that he’s still leaning toward Buttigieg.
Biden and Buttigieg are in the same boat right now: They’re plowing ahead on the campaign trail while Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Mike Bennet are stuck in D.C. for the duration of the Senate impeachment trial.
Jones says Biden and Buttigieg “for sure” have an advantage right now in the state.
“It’s simple science of how many voters they can reach, how many hands you can shake, how many people you can speak to,” he said of a state that takes its role quite seriously.
Karolyn Haugebak, 69, told VICE News she likes Klobuchar but ultimately doesn’t think the moderate Minnesota senator could beat Trump in a general election.
“Can I be honest? No, but it’s kind of a woman thing. I would love to see a woman be president. In the end, I’m hoping Biden gets the nomination and I hope Klobuchar gets the VP.”
Cover: Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, takes a selfie photograph with an attendee during a campaign event in Cedar Falls, Iowa, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020. (Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)