DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) – Unlike the other 20-odd Democratic presidential hopefuls prowling this state, Joe Biden does not have introduce himself to most Iowa voters. His is a familiar name and face in the Hawkeye State and he got a warm welcome at a rally Wednesday evening where he said his “North Star” in his pursuit of the presidency is restoring middle class prosperity and values.
After announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination last week, the former vice president made his first campaign swing through Iowa this week – whether it was to become reacquainted, or newly acquainted, with voters who will attend the first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses in February.
In his appearance Wednesday before a standing-room-only crowd in a former brewery in downtown Des Moines, Biden made a point of showing off his Iowa ties: He spotted some local Democratic leaders in the audience and called them out each by name, including a long-retired central-Iowa congressman, state legislators and a handful of elected Polk County officials.
And, there was a tip of the hat to some “folks who brung me to the dance,” referring to local members of the firefighters’ union whose international union endorsed Biden due to their long ties to the Democrat and his efforts to enact benefits for public safety officers injured in the line of duty.
Biden’s name recognition in this state comes from nearly four decades in Washington, of course, including six terms in the U.S. Senate and two terms as vice president in the administration of Barack Obama. But Biden has also been a familiar figure in Iowa, where he twice ran for the Democratic nomination – the first time two decades ago, and more recently in 2008.
All of which helps explain why he appears to have an early lead among the growing Democratic primary pack: In the most recent Iowa Poll conducted by the Des Moines Register in March, 27 percent of likely Iowa Democratic caucus goers said Biden was their first choice for president. After Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was the first choice of 25 percent of Democrats, the remaining candidates trailed in single digits.
In his speech Wednesday, which he delivered over an hour speaking into a hand-held microphone and without following a prepared text, Biden returned repeatedly to the theme of restoring America’s middle class.
He said the backbone of America is the “hard-working, average, ordinary Americans” who are worried about what’s going to happen to them.
“The middle-class dream is slipping through their hands,” he said. More than a third of them do not believe their children will achieve the same economic status they have achieved.
“How did this happen?” he asked.
There used to be a basic bargain in this country, Biden said: You work hard, contribute to the enterprise you work for, and you get a share of the profit.
“That’s no longer true,” he said. A change has occurred over the past 15 or 18 years, he said, and corporations today are obligated only to their stockholders.
Biden touched briefly on a number of policy issues: Increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour; lower college graduates’ debt loads; end non-compete agreements that suppress wages by preventing hourly workers from taking a higher-paying job with a competitor; and deal with climate change by shifting to renewable energy.
He talked in detail about health care.
“One of the great honors of my life was to serve as vice president to Barack Obama,” Biden said. “But I was never prouder than the day I stood with him when the Affordable Care Act was passed.”
But, he said, “We’ve got to finish the job.” Health care should be regarded as a right, not a privilege, he said, and if you do not have health insurance through your employer or some other source, a government option should be available.
After Biden’s speech, Andy Thayer, 40, of Urbandale, told Courthouse News Service he likes Biden.
“His best strength is he was vice president for a great president,” he said.
Still, Thayer said he is undecided about which Democratic candidate he will support and he was not moved into the Biden column by Wednesday’s event.
Ed Fallon, 61, of Des Moines, is part of a group called Bold Iowa, who dressed up as penguins at the rally to demonstrate in favor of doing something about what they say is a crisis over climate change.
“He talked about climate change, because he saw we were here,” Fallon said, but he’s not sure about Biden’s chances in this election, because he is seen as part of the political establishment. “That is problematic,” Fallon said.