Biden’s first stop in the state after formally launching his campaign was at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids. A few hundred people turned out in the rain to hear from Biden in the same building where months earlier he campaigned for then-candidate, now 1st District Representative Abby Finkenauer.
Biden hopes to parlay that resurgent democratic energy into his own bid for the presidency.
He told the crowd in Cedar Rapids Tuesday the he hopes to win back the White House with a plan to restore the middle class, which he says is crumbling.
“We have done remarkable things when the middle class has been given just an even chance, just an even chance! But today, an awful lot of people are worried that the American Dream is literally slipping from their grasp,” Biden said. “I think the moral obligation of our time is to rebuild the middle class. That’s my north star. And the reason for that is because when the middle class does well everybody does well.”
As the former Vice President, Biden is offering a continuation of Obama-era initiatives and promising to “finish the job”; he wants to expand access to healthcare and education, boost wages for the working class, and bolster safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Extending government services can be underwritten by tightening up the tax code he says, and won’t necessarily depend on tax increases.
“We can do all that we need to do to make this country grow, to restore dignity to work, and all the things we have to do, if we just eliminate unnecessary loopholes. We don’t have to raise any new taxes,” Biden said. “The only thing that stands in the way is our broken political system.”
Biden was introduced on stage by a union firefighter, and spoke of the importance of organized labor throughout his remarks.
Biden’s experience and his time in the Obama Administration make him a strong candidate for labor, says union carpenter Antonio Govea, a member of Local 308 in Cedar Rapids.
“He’s worked in the past with Obama, trying to uplift the working class, which is all union members” Govea said.
Among the audience members Iowa Public Radio spoke with at the event Tuesday, all said they are undecided at this point in the presidential cycle. But among the issues they stated as significant, themes of credibility and trustworthiness came up repeatedly.
“I would like somebody in the White House that I can be proud of,” said Maretta Portzline, a Marion resident who identifies as an independent. “Somebody who doesn’t lie to me every other word,” she continued.
Paulette Ash of Cedar Rapids says she hopes to see a woman elected to the country’s top office, and notes that Biden is “older”. But while she’s still undecided, she says she thinks Biden has experience and fortitude, and says he’s “not afraid to go up against [Trump]”.
“He’s Joe Biden. And Joe Biden…I don’t feel that there’s an untruthful bone in his body,” Ash said. “Right now, I’m...I’m saying Joe Biden may be the only one that can beat Trump.”
Biden told the crowd Tuesday he sees Trump’s presidency as an existential threat to democratic norms in the country, saying “everything that’s made America, America is at stake”.
“We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation,” Biden said. “Above all else we have to defeat President Trump in 2020, because the stakes are so high.”
At this early stage in his third bid for the presidency, the 76 year old Biden is the presumptive frontrunner, leading in a slate of polls among a packed democratic field that’s as diverse as it’s ever been.
But in Tuesday’s crowd there were some who do see benefits to the presidency of Donald Trump. Diane DeJean, an undecided Independent, says she disapproves of some of Trump’s behavior, and couldn’t bring herself to vote for him or Hillary Clinton in 2016. But she says she likes his protectionist stance on international trade, and she says she does want Washington to operate differently.
“We needed some change,” she said. “And we got it. Big time.”