Delaware News Journal - Biden Aiming for 'Buzz' with Iowa Strategy
Sen. Joe Biden grabbed Iowa state Sen. Frank Wood's hand, slapped his shoulder and looked him in the eye.
"Look me over," Biden said, standing inches away from Wood at an August picnic for the Scott County Democrats. "If you can't, you can't, but I'd like to have a shot."
Hoping to boost his chances in the first state to choose a Democratic presidential nominee, Biden has been making an aggressive pitch for Iowa lawmakers' support that's producing some surprising results.
While polls place Biden at the back of the eight-candidate Democratic pack, he's in the top tier in Iowa when it comes to legislative endorsements. He received his eighth last week from the state's Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy of Des Moines.
As of Friday, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York had 16 legislative endorsements in Iowa, while former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina had eight and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois had 10, according to their campaigns.
Biden's "experience, especially foreign-policy experience, is just unmatched," said McCarthy, a Polk County prosecutor who helped engineer the Democratic takeover of the Iowa Statehouse last year. "I think he's the most competent to handle the situation in Iraq."
Legislative endorsements are a key part of Biden's strategy for a surprise Iowa caucus showing in January, which he hopes will give him momentum to succeed in other states.
In late 2006 -- before he announced his presidential candidacy -- he attended about 60 events in Iowa, mainly to help Democratic state lawmakers win back the Statehouse. According to McCarthy's count, Biden has appeared at more events for legislative Democrats than any other candidate.
Some of those lawmakers are now helping Biden.
"We're trying to create a buzz out here," said Biden, after speaking at a fundraiser barbecue in Ottumwa for state Rep. Mary Gaskill, who said she would settle on her candidate this month. "This is wide open, and these folks don't endorse if they think you're going to lose."
The importance of endorsements in Iowa is debatable. At a summer panel discussion of elected politicians and party activists at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, the consensus was that they have little value, said Fred Waldstein, a political science professor at the college.
"At least in Iowa, the people will make up their own mind about candidates based upon personal observations and other more direct forms of learning," he said.
But Biden's political director, Danny O'Brien, said the state lawmakers who endorsed Biden "become our surrogates and help us connect with their constituents."
"But just as importantly, they help us send a message nationally as to what's going on in the early states in the face of tough national polls right now that don't have us in the top tier," O'Brien said.
State Rep. Elesha Gayman of Davenport said Biden's pitch for her blessing focused on foreign policy, his experience and "being a fighter, not one to back down from a situation."
"He was probably the more aggressive of [the candidates]," said Gayman, who met twice with Biden. "I had voicemails once a week for a month from him."
The message impressed but didn't sway Gayman -- or Wood -- who instead endorsed Obama. She liked Obama's "vision," while Wood liked "the idea that he's not Washington-ized."
But state Sen. Joe Seng of Davenport said he turned to Biden because of his leadership and 34 years of experience as a senator.
"Those three candidates don't even equal half his tenure in office," Seng said of Clinton, Edwards and Obama's combined years in the Senate. "If you're effective, you need to know the system."
State Rep. Jim Lykam, who was Biden's first legislative endorser, said he likes Biden's plan to "get us out of Iraq."
"Hillary and Obama are raising tons of money, but I think Joe's going to be peaking at the right time," said Lykam
Biden's legislative endorsements include Seng and seven representatives, a number that's "pretty surprising" to Edwards supporter state Rep. Andrew Wenthe, given Biden's standings in the polls and Obama and Clinton's superior investment of money and resources.
Even after running television ads in Iowa, Biden remained low on the list of Iowa registered Democrats, Democratic voters and Democratic caucus-goers, according to a Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg Poll released on Sept. 11.
Asked if the January Democratic caucus were being held today, 2 percent said they would vote for Biden, while 28 percent said they would vote for Clinton. Biden's number climbed to just 7 percent when respondents were asked who would be the best at ending the war in Iraq, his signature issue.
McCarthy doesn't give the polls a second thought, calling them "virtually meaningless" at this stage. As part of Biden's Iowa team, McCarthy said he will try to line up more endorsements for Biden and get supporters signed up for caucus night. He'll also help with national fundraising by showing that, despite low rankings in the national polls, Biden has support in Iowa.
"We know Iowa better than anybody else," he said. "The reason why we're putting our names on the line is we sense movement and we sense [campaign] infrastructure being built."