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Warren outshines Biden in race to build Iowa 2020 ground game

Tyler Pager, Bill Allison and Mark Niquette, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

Boxes of printers and office supplies lay scattered on the ground. Campaign staff sat on the floor in mostly unfurnished offices as they were just starting to occupy Joe Biden's Iowa headquarters in Des Moines after weeks of working remotely in coffee shops around the city.

The delayed headquarters opening is just one of the many ways Biden is playing catch-up in the crucial first-caucus state where voters prize retail politics and sustained engagement.

An elected Democratic official in the state, speaking on condition of anonymity, complained that if Biden has a campaign in Iowa, he doesn't know who's working on it or how many.

In contrast, Elizabeth Warren, who jumped into the race four months before the former vice president, has built one of the most robust operations in the state, positioning her to capitalize on her surging national poll numbers and her steady rise in Iowa, Democratic operatives say.

A strong operation there could propel her nationally, those Democrats say, while many expressed surprise that the former vice president had a slow start building a strong operation in the Hawkeye State.

"Elizabeth Warren, because she got in early, you could say that she has a leg up," said Penny Rosfjord, the Fourth District chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party. "Her staff has been on the ground and kind of assimilating into their communities."

 

Warren's campaign has nine offices across the state, and her Iowa headquarters in West Des Moines has been in operation since March. The Massachusetts senator has made nine trips to the state and has 65 employees there.

The Biden campaign said it has other fully operational offices throughout the state, and it plans to announce additional details about its field operation in the near future.

In 2008, Barack Obama's surprise victory in Iowa stemmed in large part from a superior ground game and a sophisticated, data-driven turn-out-the-vote operation that was tailored to the peculiarities of the caucus system. Obama captured nearly 38% of the vote, handily defeating Hillary Clinton, the race's front-runner, who came in third, after John Edwards. Obama's operation was so successful that Clinton looked to replicate it in 2016.

While Biden clings to his early front-runner status in polls, Warren has gained ground through a steady stream of policy proposals, a strong debate performance and a maverick approach. Biden, by contrast, has leaned on his decades in the Senate and the White House in his pitch, which focuses on his belief that he is best positioned to defeat President Donald Trump in November 2020.

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