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Trump, Biden Make Final Pitches for Iowa in Campaign Shaped by COVID-19

Evan Vucci
President Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally at Dubuque Regional Airport on Sunday.

Iowans will make a final decision in the presidential race on Election Day on Tuesday. Iowa Public Radio’s Clay Masters takes a look back at how the campaigns for President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden have played out in Iowa in the midst of a pandemic.

Polls have shown the presidential race between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden as a toss-up in Iowa throughout much of the year, amidst a growing pandemic in the state. Iowans have experienced campaigning in the state for nearly two years thanks to the Iowa caucuses.

Election Day is Tuesday and Iowa voters will make a final decision in the presidential race.

Former Vice President Joe Biden brought up the coronavirus just a couple days before the Iowa caucuses during a campaign stop in North Liberty. The budding pandemic was not top-of-mind for many voters.

“Right now the coronavirus is becoming clearly to be a world crisis. It’s moving in directions that we don’t know exactly where it’s going to yet,” Biden told the crowd in North Liberty. “In a moment like this a president’s credibility is very much in need.”

It was a brief point in one of his last Iowa speeches before his fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. Biden came in fifth in New Hampshire, but he started winning after South Carolina a few weeks later and it put him on a path to receive his party’s nomination.

States started putting restrictions in place as the pandemic spread across the country. Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds put some restrictions in place early on but began removing them even as confirmed coronavirus cases, deaths and hospitalizations increased.

Clay Masters
Iowa Democratic Congresswoman Cindy Axne speaks to a group of voters at Drake University in Des Moines in front of the "Early Vote Express." Democrats made adjustments to campaigning because of the pandemic.

The pandemic changed the strategy for Democrats this year. There was not the usual door knocking that takes place. Democratic campaigns across the country made a lot of phone calls and sent a lot of texts. Here in Iowa, the Iowa Democratic Party and Biden campaign held bus stops like one at Drake University last week, where they handed out Biden/Harris yard signs, T-shirts and facemasks. Democratic surrogates spoke to voters who showed up.

“I’m so excited to elect Joe and Kamala as president and Vice President,” Iowa Democratic Congresswoman Cindy Axne said to a crowd of Drake students. “I’ve had an opportunity to work with both of them.”

Democrats also didn’t hold any crowded rallies for candidates this year. In September, Polk County Democrats’ held its annual steak fry as a drive-in event.

Retired teacher Cassandra Stone-Flomo was there and caucused for Biden in February.

I thought he was more middle-of-the-road,” Stone-Flomo said. “He supports social security and affordable healthcare.”

She was also excited to vote early, which began in Iowa on October 5.

While the pandemic changed Democrats’ strategies, it was largely business-as-usual for Republicans. Volunteers were still knocking doors in the important suburbs of Des Moines last week.

Charlie Neibergall
Supporters pose for photos as they wait for Vice President Mike Pence to arrive for an airport rally last Thursday in Des Moines.

“If you look at data points it shows that having one-on-one conversations with the everyday voter, it’s more likely that they’re able to go out and vote and they’re more likely to vote for your candidate,” said Preya Samsundar with the Republican National Committee.

President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence went on with in-person rallies in Iowa. Trump attracted thousands to the Des Moines airport in mid-October.

“When you look at what he has done for our country, whether you like him or not, I don’t see how people can turn away from that,” said Wilton dairy farmer Bill Norton, who was not concerned about attending the Des Moines rally. “He’ll go down as one of the greatest presidents to ever do things for our country.”

Trump’s Des Moines trip came soon after he had COVID-19, and he downplayed the severity of the virus.

“I didn't love it,” Trump said to chuckles from the crowd. “It’s a little tough. You have a temperature and you don’t feel good.”

Clay Masters
Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden takes his mask off before speaking at a drive-in campaign rally last Friday at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

Meanwhile, Biden came back to Iowa Friday for his first visit to the state since his fourth-place Iowa caucus finish. He held a drive-in rally at the state fairgrounds, attracting more than 300 vehicles.

He mentioned the record COVID-19 hospitalizations in Iowa and criticized the president’s pandemic response.

“He knew how bad it was at the end of January. He decided not to tell the people. He worried they would panic,” Biden shouted to the crowd. “Well, guess what? We don’t panic. He panicked!”

Trump made one last stop in Iowa yesterday in Dubuque. The county went for Barack Obama twice before flipping in 2016 and helping give Trump his over-9 point Iowa victory. The first comments out of the president’s mouth were about a weekend poll published in the Des Moines Register that showed him with his first big lead in the state this year.

“I just noticed there happened to be a poll out that came out last night that has a very, very substantial margin,” Trump said. “We’re very happy with it.”

We’ll soon see how happy Iowa voters are with how the president has handled the pandemic. The Iowa secretary of state has already received more than 955,000 ballots from early voters as of Monday morning.