‘Like he’s not even in the race’: Low Biden enthusiasm sets stage for Sanders surge
OSCEOLA, Iowa — On paper, Joe Biden’s campaign infrastructure in Iowa is exactly what to expect from a prominent Democratic primary contender, with a large number of field offices and campaign aides spread throughout the state.
But a closer look there and in New Hampshire reveals a lack of enthusiasm and cracks in the operation that could stifle his turnout efforts and give his closest competitor, Bernie Sanders, the upper hand in a tight race.
“I don’t know anybody who’s showing any interest in Biden. It’s like he’s not even in the race,” said Heather Titus, 47, a medical secretary from Osceola, Iowa who attended a town hall for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Wednesday.
Biden, 77, is perceived by some voters as part of a corrupt, failed Democratic establishment that caused Hillary Clinton to lose in 2016 to President Trump.
“If there was one candidate that would hold secrets, it would definitely be him,” Chuck Titus, 52, a landscaper from Urbandale, Iowa, who also attended the Buttigieg event. “He would definitely, I think, lie to the American people. Or not maybe so lie, but not tell the truth.”
That skepticism could explain why Biden is slightly behind Sanders, 78, in Iowa polls. The RealClearPolitics average finds Sanders leading the state with 23.8% and Biden in second place with 20.2%.
Biden’s campaign operation in Iowa is closely matched with other candidates in the top tier. Buttigieg leads the field with 33 offices and 160 staff members, while Biden oversees 28 offices, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sanders of Vermont operate 27 and 21, respectively. Biden is roughly equal to Warren and Sanders in staffing, with each team having around 150 on the payroll. All of those are fewer than President Barack Obama’s 2008 Iowa campaign, which had 37 offices.
Sanders, though, holds an advantage with a large number of volunteers. As of this summer, his campaign estimated that roughly 25,000 Iowans signed up to help knock doors and place phone calls.
There are no public estimates for how many Biden supporters have volunteered for his campaign, but the rhetoric from his campaign in the last few weeks indicate they are desperate.
In the days before the Iowa caucuses, Biden trotted out representatives pleading for audience members to sign up for volunteer efforts. Rival campaigns believe he has few “caucus captains” set to convince caucusgoers to support him. On Thursday, during a campaign stop in Ottumwa, Biden field organizers urged an older crowd of supporters to help get out the vote on Monday, starting from 6 a.m. He later reiterated the message. This week, Biden was still posting job listings for field organizer positions in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
New Hampshire reveals a much weaker Biden effort compared to his competitors with less than two weeks until the first-in-the-nation primary. Biden has 55 staff members in the state, roughly half the number as Sanders, Warren, or Buttigieg.
Those numbers are a consequence of his campaign strategy of not wasting limited resources — he raised $11.8 million less than Sanders in the last three months of 2019 — in a state where Sanders and Warren have a New England home-field advantage. Instead, Biden hopes to win big in states such as Nevada and South Carolina where he maintains appeal with minority voters.
The Biden organization facade was on display at a rally in Salem, New Hampshire, on Saturday. More than 350 showed up, and the campaign had to direct about half of the attendees to an overflow room — but many of the attendees are not eligible to vote in the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11. The Washington Examiner spoke to attendees from neighboring Vermont and Massachusetts as well as Rhode Island and volunteers for the campaign from Maryland. The same trend was observed by the Washington Examiner in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and next-door Nebraska.
Those that did live in New Hampshire were not settled on voting for Biden.
“I worry about fighting specifically when under pressure, it doesn’t seem like he’s always the smoothest,” said Manchester, New Hampshire, banking professional Julie Polenchar, 35. Her “current favorite” is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
President Trump came second in the state to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2016 without the same level of organization, but a robust structure can provide a boost, particularly in a state notorious for poor weather conditions and a large percentage of people residing in rural areas.