OTTUMWA, Iowa — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Tuesday made his second trip as a presidential candidate to Iowa ahead of its first-in-the-nation caucus, seeking to erase any lingering doubts about his ability to unite the party and take out President Trump in the 2020 election.
The significance of the trip was magnified by polling that raised serious questions about Mr. Biden’s star power here and by the fact that Mr. Trump was also making a series of stops in Iowa, marking the first time in the 2020 campaign season that the two men were campaigning in the same state on the same day.
Mr. Biden sought to take advantage of that narrative, telling audiences and the crush of media following him that Mr. Trump is an “existential threat to America.”
“I think he is genuinely a threat to our core values and a threat to our standing in the world,” Mr. Biden told a crowd at an event center on the banks of the Des Moines River. “Four years of Donald Trump will be viewed as an aberration in American history. Eight years, eight years, will fundamentally change who we are as a nation and how we are viewed around the world.”
A Des Moines Register/CNN poll released over the weekend showed Mr. Biden’s lead has shrunk and his supporters are less enthusiastic about their preferred pick than voters that have lined up behind some of his challengers.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden touted the importance of Iowa, which kicks off the nomination process, and dismissed the early surveys here.
“They don’t mean a thing right now,” Mr. Biden said. “This is a marathon, this is a marathon, and the marathon is just beginning.”
Mr. Biden once again steered clear of his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination and zeroed in on Mr. Trump, saying this administration has dropped the ball when it comes to taxes, health care, climate change and trade.
“President Trump is in Iowa today and … I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event because Iowa farmers have been crushed by his tariff war with China and no one knows better than the folks in Iowa,” he said.
He said, “I think the president has made the wrong choices almost all along the line.”
Mr. Biden called for raising the capital gains tax to pay for free community college and a tax credit for child care.
The visit here is part of a two-day swing through blue-collar Iowa counties that flipped to Trump in 2016.
Ottumwa is the county seat of Wapello County, which Mr. Trump became the first Republican since Dwight Eisenhower to carry in a presidential election.
Before the campaign stops, the Biden campaign announced its first round of Iowa endorsements, touting the support of eight party officials and labor leaders.
Voters, meanwhile, said they are still trying to sort out the massive Democratic field, and weighing the pros and cons that Mr. Biden brings to the table.
Corey Jones, 46, said Mr. Biden’s age is a concern, but he also likes the vast experience he offers as a former senator and as former President Barack Obama’s right-hand man.
“He is going to be really old if he gets elected,” Mr. Jones said. “That doesn’t disqualify him, just you have to think about that. I think [former President Ronald] Reagan was too old and he started losing his mind towards the end.”
Lisa Benge, 59, said that while she’s always been a big Biden supporter, and that he is among her favorites, he is not a shoo-in.
“I think it is just could be time for some new blood,” Ms. Benge said
Voters across the state in recent days have described Mr. Biden fondly as a “good guy” and “good dude. It also is not uncommon to bump into voters who have personal stories about the one-on-one interactions they’ve had with Mr. Biden over the years.
It is clear, though, that voters are torn over whether Mr. Biden should pass the baton to a new generation of leaders.
“I am not excited about Biden and the older generation, we need to have some newer blood, and I am speaking as the older generation,” said Mark Olsen, 64.
Amanda Johnson, 35, said that Mr. Biden is “a little mainstream.”
“I don’t know if he is what we need,” she said.
At the same time, though, Ms. Johnson said she understands why some voters see him as a safe choice.
“He’s familiar, you know from the Obama era,” she said. “People are comfortable with that. I don’t think they are ready necessarily for Bernie [Sanders] or a liberal to get in there, somebody new to challenge the system. I think he kind of gives people a little bit more security in the sense of the way things were.”
State Rep. Charles Isenhart, who represents the Dubuque area, said Mr. Biden is a “well-known commodity” with some “long-term supporters” and that there is a lot of affinity for him in the Catholic community.
“He’s kind of a well-worn shoe,” Mr. Isenhart said. “It is a shoe that’s fit, a shoe that is comfortable with a great number of people that are going to vote.”
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