IN IOWA Jay Barth


If Pete Buttigieg veers towards a Mr. Spock-like candidacy, former Vice President Joe Biden is all about emotion. Biden’s final appearance before the caucuses was in a packed middle school gym just before the Super Bowl and lacked the program tightness of the Buttigieg rally. Instead, speaker upon speaker (Biden’s sister, the president of the International Fire Fighters, several elected officials including two members of Congress elected in 2018, former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and his wife Christie, and, finally, Dr. Jill Biden) all gave introductory comments about Biden that ran just a tad too long. Even more messily, Biden himself felt the need to thank all of these speakers along with others in the room such as former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Sen. Chris Dodd for their support. It took much of the energy out of what began as a revved up auditorium full of folks ready to hear Biden and then move on to the Super Bowl.


The overarching theme of the introductory speeches and videos was Biden’s empathy and how it represented a 180 degree difference from President Trump’s self-centeredness and callousness. His care for others — from his own family members to “wounded warriors” — reminded voters of why they like Biden the person.

In his own remarks, Biden was much more crisp than he’s occasionally shown during this year’s Democratic debates. His message was entirely about the fundamental flaws of President Trump as a person and in his performance (starting with Trump’s response to the events in Charlottesville and working across the remainder of the domestic and international arenas). The mission of his candidacy: restore the ideals of the country as they were so clearly expressed in the not so distant past. Biden expressed righteous anger about the ways that Trump had marred the country he loves and did so in a voice that veered toward yelling. It was a very different emotion than the empathy emphasized by others. Thus, in various respects, Biden was as hot as Buttigieg was cool.

Jay Barth

A subtheme of both Biden’s remarks and those of Iowa U.S. Reps. Cindy Axne and Abby Finkenauer was electability. Not just Biden’s electability for [resident but also how he would be a strong partner for those running further down the ballot as Democrats (Axne and Finkenauer, elected in 2018, are in two of the most competitive congressional seats in the country).

There were two protests during Biden’s talk — the most persistent one criticized Biden’s taking campaign dollars from the fossil fuel industry — and they were clearly distracting to Biden. But, he did remain focused enough to get through the speech without a major miscue.


Other observers of Biden in Iowa have remarked upon the sleepiness of his events and the age of his crowds. Neither of those was true today — which bodes well for him to perform solidly on caucus night — but there was a certain messiness to the event and Biden’s performance that doesn’t bode well for the months ahead if he is to become the Democratic nominee.