DENISON, Iowa -- Joe Biden is working to breathe new life into his campaign in Iowa, a state where he's struggled to keep up with his competitors' organizations and popularity despite leading the crowded 2020 field of Democrats in most national polls.
Biden kicked off an eight-day bus tour this weekend that focuses on rural areas. He's traveling with Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and agriculture secretary under President Barack Obama, and Vilsack's wife, Christie.
Aides and allies see Biden's trip as an opportunity to shift to a new phase of Iowa campaigning -- not as intense as it will be during the final rush before the Feb. 3 caucus, but more focused, particularly in rural areas that get little attention from most candidates. Biden's team believes he can attract at least 15% of the support of caucus-goers in each of the state's 1,679 precincts, the threshold for earning delegates toward the Democratic nomination.
"We're going to go to 18 counties, on a 660-mile trip across the state, and we're going to touch on what we think is a forgotten part of most campaigns -- the rural part of your state, rural America," Biden said Saturday in Council Bluffs, the first stop of the 8-day bus tour.
Sitting down to breakfast on Sunday with the Vilsacks at Queen Beans Coffee House in Carroll, population about 9,800, Biden said he wants the tour to remind Iowans why he continues to lead in national polls.
"We're here to translate the polls nationally to here," he said. "Look, I feel good about Iowa and the fact is that my impression -- and the Vilsacks have forgotten more about this than I'll ever know but I know a little about it -- is that Iowans make up their minds late. And they change. The front-runner ends up getting behind and the front-runner comes back."
For months, Biden's campaign has been dogged by criticism among supporters and critics alike that his Iowa operation was slow to get off the ground. Given the nature of the caucuses, where voters choose the nominee by gathering in public spaces like school gymnasiums, churches and community centers for one night in February, a robust organization that encourages people to participate is critical to success.
While even his own campaign manager, Greg Schultz, has said he can become the Democratic nominee without winning Iowa, Biden set his ambitions higher.
"I'm running to win. I'm not running to lose. I'm not running to come in third or fourth or fifth or anything like that. So I feel good about it. And, you know, having Vilsack doesn't hurt at all."
But even during the eight days billed as a declaration of his devotion to the state, Biden's taking two side trips that reflect the competing demands for his time. He's leaving Iowa on Monday afternoon to raise money in Chicago, returning on Tuesday morning for a singleorganizing event in Mason City, and then flying to fund-raisers in New York before returning to Iowa on Wednesday afternoon. Hosts for his New York events include Arne Glimcher, an art dealer who founded the Pace Gallery in Manhattan, and Alan Patricof, co-founder of Greycroft Partners LLC, a venture capital firm.