Joe Biden picks up the pace in the Hawkeye State ahead of 2020, will it be enough?
Biden will make his longest trip to date to Iowa with an 8-day bus tour.
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- After a brief Thanksgiving hiatus, former Vice President Joe Biden is hitting the road Saturday in Iowa in a big way, embarking on an eight-day, 18-county bus tour through the state as the 2020 presidential hopeful looks to gain momentum.
Biden’s barnstorm will mark the most consecutive days he’s spent in a state since joining the 2020 race -- and comes as the campaign is ramping up efforts in Iowa with the caucuses just two months away.
“He's committed to running the type of campaign that he needs to run to be successful here," a senior Biden aide told ABC News. "And I think for any, any caucus campaign... it really does require him to travel as much to the state as possible."
But Biden’s first bus tour also comes on the heels of a recent Iowa poll that showed him trailing fellow moderate, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and statistically tied with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Hawkeye state. And now, the Democratic Party has seen two new entrants into the primary: former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.
“A solid eight days in Iowa is a long time, and I think it illustrates the degree to which the Biden campaign is realizing that they really do want to put in a respectable showing in Iowa,” Rachel Paine Caufield, a professor at Drake University, and author of ‘The Iowa Caucus’ told ABC News.
The “No Malarkey" tour, traveling across the middle of the state, will follow a recent pattern for Biden -- emphasizing smaller, more rural Iowa communities along with the major media markets that Biden’s previous trips have been centered on. Stops on the tour include small communities like Algona, with a population of just over 5,000, and Emmetsburg, home to just over 3,000.
“We can't just rely on going to big media markets and trying to generate earned media. We really do have to go and meet voters where they are in their communities and be able to have the kind of volunteer and precinct captain structure necessary to kind of pull delegates out of as many counties as possible,” the Biden aide told ABC News.
“This tour is really about organization building first and foremost,” the aide added, downplaying that crowd turnout throughout Biden’s swing would be an indication of the success of the tour.
“The goal is can we get more precinct captains who will be, you know, engaged and volunteering in our communities and organizing our precincts between now and Feb. 3," the aide said.
Energizing supporters in the state will be critical to Biden’s caucus efforts as the campaign enters a new stage, according to Paine Caufield.
“Being on the ground is absolutely essential to building that empowered and energized base of local activists who are going to push the campaign over any hurdles,” she said when asked about the efficacy of a bus tour.
“The key is, I think, that it has to be done well,” she continued, arguing that the campaign needed to thread the needle of authentic but organized interactions.
The bus tour will include a mix of different event formats, including formal meet-and-greet stops that will allow Biden to mingle with voters, informal stops for lunch or ice cream along his route and even a potluck dinner in Waterloo.
Biden will also take part in town hall events on the trip, opening up the floor for voters to ask the candidate questions. His events have largely transitioned into this format in Iowa over the past few weeks, as the campaign believes it will benefit Biden's skill set by allowing for more personal interactions.
“When we first came to the state it was important for him to kind of lay out very specifically why he was running for president and, you know, talking about what the soul of America and backbone of America mean," the aide said. "At this point, I would say that there's a lot of people who have heard that either in person or they’ve seen our TV ads or they see news coverage. And so, I think for us, part of running a campaign is also being able to be able to interact with voters."
Iowa and beyond
Since September, Biden’s team has maintained that the ‘first in the nation’ caucus state is not a ‘must-win’ for the campaign, arguing that for Democrats to be successful in 2020, the party needs a candidate who can win over more than just white voters.
“If you're going to be the nominee for the Democratic Party in 2020, you need to have a strong multi-racial coalition. And there is no way, and no reason that the nominee of this party should be decided before Nevada and South Carolina vote,” a senior Biden official told reporters on a call in September.
But while the campaign has downplayed the importance of the state for overall victory, they haven’t shied away from investing time or money there.
Biden has spent more time in Iowa than any other state during his presidential run, holding more than 50 events during his 14 trips to the state. An aide to Biden told ABC News that he's expected to spend upwards of 20 days in Iowa during the fourth fundraising quarter of 2019 -- more than he spent in the state during the 2nd and 3rd quarters combined.
The campaign has also invested heavily in advertising in Iowa. Four different ads have hit the airwaves across major media markets in the state as part of a $4 million dollar broadcast and digital ad buy in the state through the caucuses.
The team has seen a steady build as the caucuses inch closer. Currently, the Biden campaign has employed more than 110 staffers and has 26 offices across the state, putting him on par with Buttigieg's numbers, but still behind the Warren campaign, who currently has more than 170 staffers in the state.
“As more caucus-goers are paying attention, we want to make sure that we're investing more as that happens and so if there's 200,000 or 240,000 or 300,000 people who go to caucuses, a good number of those people are only starting to pay attention in December and January," the aide told ABC News. "So it's kind of -- for us it always kind of makes sense that we have, you know, kind of an increase in expenditures once we get towards kind of the tail end of this campaign."
In the polls
While polls nationally show Biden at the top of the pack, the specific Iowa polls have shown the former vice president trailing Buttigieg, who is looking for a breakout moment in Iowa, comparable to former President Barack Obama in 2008.
While Biden and his team have put a heavy emphasis on his strong polling against Donald Trump nationwide to support their argument that the former vice president is best positioned to take on the incumbent president, they have downplayed any stumble in the Iowa polls as too soon to tell.
“Look, historically, I know from experience, Iowans make up their mind at the very last minute. And there's a long way to go in this campaign and we talk about the polls, at this point, I don't think they mean a great deal," Biden told reporters during his Iowa trip before Thanksgiving. "You look at one, the very one that came out where Pete's looking really good, the next day CBS had one of me winning."
He added, “[Iowans are] gonna sit down at Thanksgiving dinner and start for the first time to think, who am I really for? Who do I want?”
Biden’s prediction that there is still time to win over the top spot requires one crucial ingredient: timing, as Paine Caufield said.
“The challenge in Iowa is kind of to get that momentum at the right time going into the caucuses," she said. "Mayor Pete would need to maintain his momentum. Joe Biden is trying to regain some momentum.”
ABC News’ Justin Gomez and Sam Sergi contributed to this report.