In western Iowa, some voters are taking a look at Biden, but aren’t ready to buy

PHOTO: Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a house party at former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsacks house, July 15, 2019, in Waukee, Iowa.PlayCharlie Neibergall/AP
WATCH Polls show Biden a favorite for general election as Harris surges

In western Iowa, many voters are shopping, taking a hard look at former Vice President Joe Biden — but some say they aren’t necessarily ready to buy.

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“In Iowa, we say, ‘Well, if we don’t see them three or four times, we haven’t really made up our minds yet,’” said Mike Earll of Sibley, Iowa on Tuesday.

The Democratic frontrunner recently spent three days traversing the western portion of the state, with stops in Des Moines, Waukee, Manning, Le Mars, Sioux City, and Council Bluffs speaking to mainly older, white crowds of a few hundred people.

Several 2020 Democrats are staffing up in Iowa—with many frontrunners employing paid staffs on the ground of 50 or more—including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey. Biden’s team currently employs more than 60 staffers in the Hawkeye State.

An Iowa poll from early June showed Biden with a strong favorability rating and leading the 2020 Democratic pack for the first primary contest of the 2020 season with a strong lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, Warren, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend.

But in anecdotal interviews with more than a dozen voters at Biden’s events across the western quadrant of the early-voting state show that while voters have a positive view of the former vice president and think he could beat President Trump in a head-to-head matchup, they aren’t ready to commit to voting for him—at least not yet.

“It’s like trying to pick a favorite child, I have several favorites,” Amy Haskins told ABC News in Manning, Iowa when asked if she planned to support Biden.

“Joe Biden is probably my number one, but I have a whole lot of number twos and number threes. I haven’t ruled out anybody right yet,” Bill Kelly said at an event in Council Bluffs, Iowa on Wednesday.

Biden's Competition

Biden has led in national and Iowa state poll since he entered the race in late April. Those who attended Biden’s events said he was among their top candidates if not their favorite—like Mary Klein of Sioux City, who attended Biden’s rally there with a ‘Biden ’08’ sign –which she amended to include “Liked Joe then, still like Joe.”

PHOTO: Mary Klein holds a Biden President 08 sign with amended caption in Sioux City, Iowa, July 16, 2019. Molly Nagle/ABC News
Mary Klein holds a "Biden President '08" sign with amended caption in Sioux City, Iowa, July 16, 2019.

“He’s committed to everyday people, he’s committed to his country, he’s very knowledgeable about the world and what’s going on in the world with a wealth of experience. He just brings so much and is eager to get in and roll up his sleeves and work for us. I just have a strong sense of that and I have ever since the first time we met and I followed him all these years,” Klein told ABC News, saying she met Biden during his 2008 campaign.

Though it’s still early in the Democratic primary process most of the dozens of people who spoke to ABC News during the swing through the western part of the state listed the same three candidates as their other top 2020 picks, in addition to Biden: Warren, Harris, and Buttigieg.

One candidate that wasn't mentioned among the voters ABC News spoke with was Sen. Bernie Sanders. His staffers tell ABC News they view Biden as competition for the working-class vote.

Biden and three other most mentioned candidates, while holding leading positions in recent national polls, represent an ideological split in the party between progressive and more moderate candidates. When asked about the fact the candidates had different beliefs, voters who spoke to ABC News said that ideology isn’t necessarily their biggest concern.

“It’s less philosophical, and more about who I think can take the fight to Donald Trump. That matters more to me than any policy position. I’m just being honest,” Pete Leo of Manning, IA told ABC News.

Emma Shields shared a similar sentiment at Biden’s event in Council Bluffs, saying beating Trump was a priority.

“The majority of the people running have the same ideas of what I would want. Like the majority of people running want to save Roe v. wade and yeah, and Donald Trump is just the opposite of that,” Shields said.

Health care boon?

While in the Hawkeye State, Biden rolled out multiple policy proposals, including his healthcare plan that calls for expanding the Affordable Care Act enacted under the Obama-Biden administration and adding a public option for those who do not receive health care through their employer to buy into.

Biden drew a sharp contrast with some of his 2020 competitors who are calling for a ‘Medicare for all’ system while in Iowa, reminding crowds that a single-payer system, like those pushed by Sanders, Warren and Harris would mean an entirely new health care system.

“In my view, we have to finish the job and make health care a right, not a privilege. Give everyone the peace of mind they deserve, everyone. And for me that means building on Obamacare with a public option,” Biden said in his remarks in Council Bluffs Wednesday afternoon.

“There are a lot of people running into the party who want to get rid of Obamacare start over with something new. Well, folks, I'm not for that and they're well-intended. They're all good people.”

The voters ABC News spoke with in the western part of the state seemed to agree with the Biden approach, liking the incremental and ‘pragmatic’ approach.

“I worked for an insurance company for 36 years, I’m an attorney, and so I think his approach the Obamacare approach is a better approach than what the other folks are talking about,” Pete Leo said in Manning, Iowa.

Earll said that while felt that the country would eventually need to move to a single-payer system, he didn’t think the time was now.

“Ideally, yes, it would be nice to have Medicare for all, I don’t think the country is ready for that. I don’t think a lot of the folks who have their own private health care at this point are ready for that as well. So I think the Vice President’s approach is more pragmatic, it’s also a compromise that can definitely work,” Earll said.

Biden seems keen on making Health care central to his campaign and to the second Democratic Debate—telling voters they would hear ‘a lot about it in the debates we have coming up,” and telling reporters in Sioux City he would be prepared to debate the topic on the stage.

Debate concerns

Biden’s trip to Iowa came a few weeks after the first Democratic debate, and a lackluster performance by Biden—something that weighed on the minds of voters.

Leo said he wanted to see Biden to put to rest any concerns he had about him coming off the debate stage.

“I just wanted to come out and see a little bit more of Joe, his debate performance you know, kind of raised a few questions and I just wanted to come see him live and just see how he does. I like him a lot, I think he could beat Trump. And I kind of want to make sure he has the ability to go the distance, as they say,” Leo told ABC News on Tuesday.

But following Biden’s remarks, Leo said he wasn’t convinced.

“I would say he showed his age,” Leo said, noting that he wasn’t counting Biden out, but would keep the concerns in the back of his mind.

Bill Kelly was also not impressed by Biden’s time on the debate stage.

“I was a little disappointed, I wanted him to be more prepared,” Kelly said Wednesday when asked about Biden’s first debate performance.

“Don’t run from what you’ve done. You’ve been in political life for all these years. And we can all grow. So if you was on an issue that may be considered the wrong side of the issue now, it wasn’t the wrong side of the issue back then, so don’t run. Just be who you are, be truthful, say what you mean and mean what you say. And if it was wrong then, you can say, ‘well you know I’m growing,” Kelly said, referring to Biden’s position on busing, which Harris confronted Biden over in the June debate.

Biden might have the chance to redeem himself in less than two weeks when he shares the stage with another slate of nine candidates at the second Democratic debates in Detroit—including Harris.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden poses for a photo with audience members during a community event, July 17, 2019, in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall/AP
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden poses for a photo with audience members during a community event, July 17, 2019, in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The age question

One inescapable consideration is Biden’s age. The former vice president would be 78 on Inauguration Day—the oldest president ever elected, beating the current record holder, Donald Trump.

“It's a legitimate question to ask about my age. And same question was asked to me, ‘was I old enough?’ when I got elected at age 29 before I was, you know, old enough to serve. It's a question whether or not-- you know, hopefully, I can demonstrate not only with age, has come wisdom and experience that can make things a lot better, right. And so what was that for you all to decide not for me to decide,” Biden said on the question of his age on ABC’s The View in April.

A national Quinnipiac poll from June showed Biden enjoys much more support from older Americans than younger. Some 41% of voters who said they would support Biden were over the age of 50, as opposed to just 18% of voters between 18 and 49.

Older voters who spoke to ABC said the age question did give them pause—but said a young Vice President could be a solution.

“I’m a little afraid, now that I’ve turned 65—and he’s older than I am—I’m a little afraid that he’s-- you get to a point where you’re not as sharp as you used to be, and I’d like to see maybe the thought of him turning over the reins in 4 years,” Joel Meade, 65 said at a health care event in Le Mars, IA.

“I would like if he is the candidate, I would like a young vice-presidential candidate,” Judy Brower, 73, said in Le Mars, IA.

“Me too, definitely. And there’s a number of them he can pick from,” Kipp, 74, agreed.

But 19-year-old Timothy Martin said he preferred Biden’s years of experience to some younger candidates.

“I think older people, they’ve been around the block a few times. So I would definitely have confidence in someone who is older than someone who’s 30, 40 years old, 35, 45 years old.”

To be sure, it’s still early in the election process, and voters in Iowa take their responsibility as the first caucus in the country seriously. With the Iowa State Fair around the corner, one thing is clear: some Iowa voters are looking for more opportunities to meet the candidates before they make up their minds.