Caucus for Biden, or he may kiss you!

Biden pushes for a strong finish in Iowa, but will his supporters stick by him?

By Mike Madden

Published December 30, 2007 11:23PM (EST)

DES MOINES, Iowa -- The world, clearly, was not prepared for Joe-mentum in New Hampshire four years ago. Are Iowans ready for Mo-Joe '08?

If Sen. Joe Biden's campaign can be believed, maybe. The Bidenistas are busy telling reporters around the state that their man is poised to do better than anyone expected in Thursday's caucuses (even if Mo-Joe '08 doesn't seem like a slogan destined to produce results). The two-time Democratic presidential candidate and his entire family are barnstorming Iowa, trying to drum up enough support to move on to New Hampshire with a strong fourth-place -- or, less likely, a surprise third-place -- finish here. And if there is a Biden mini-surge building, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto might help move it along, as caucus-goers seek out a candidate with foreign policy chops. "We've been making the argument that Joe Biden is the one person who's really equipped to lead from day one," said Biden's communications director, Larry Rasky. "Hillary can talk about experience, but Joe Biden actually has it." As for other candidates, Biden aides point out that while John Edwards got a lot of press for calling Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after Bhutto's death, Musharraf called Biden, who has been on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for years.

A wholly unscientific sampling of people at events for other Democratic candidates does turn up some evidence that, in fact, Biden is getting a second look as the caucuses approach. The problem is, it's not clear how many of his supporters believe he's going to do well enough for them to stick by him through the end of the night.

"I'm a Republican, but I will change, and I do plan to caucus," said a retired farmer at a Hillary Clinton rally in Mount Pleasant Wednesday, who didn't want to give his name. "I'll support Biden ... I guess next I'd go for Obama in the second round." Another likely caucus-goer, who also wanted to keep his name out of print (apparently Biden supporters are trying to keep it a secret), told me at a Barack Obama rally Thursday in Des Moines that he had switched his allegiances recently. "I was for Biden, but I think Obama's got a better chance," he said. "I want anyone but Hillary." A social worker from Fairfield, Deborah Pogel, told Salon's Walter Shapiro Saturday night at an Obama rally that she was strongly leaning toward caucusing for Biden even though she doubted he'd make it to the second round of votes.

The difficult part for Biden may be that Clinton is stealing his theme -- and she's got a lot more money for TV ads than he does. They're both pitching themselves as the experienced candidate who can step into the Oval Office immediately. Biden's recent ad, "Office," isn't that different from Clinton's "Stakes." Recognizing that he can't compete with Obama to be a breath of fresh air after Biden's 35 years in the Senate, his staff says any votes he picks up are coming from the ranks of caucus-goers that either Clinton or Edwards is counting on.

On Thursday, Biden needs to carve out some precincts where he can hold on to at least 15 percent support, the threshold Iowa Democrats require for a candidate to be "viable" -- that is, for Biden's supporters not to be forced to move on to their second choice. He knows it, and refreshingly, he isn't above saying so. At a campaign stop in Des Moines Wednesday, Biden told the audience (including Shapiro, who passed along the quote -- we Roadies share and share alike):

If I hear one more person say to me, "Biden, I think you're the most qualified but I don't think you can win the caucus," I am going to ... [here, he paused and seemed about to say "kill"] kiss you. Ladies and gentlemen, I will win if you caucus for me. Please caucus for me.

That may, in the end, not prove to be a winning pitch. But it's certainly an honest one.

Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

MORE FROM Mike Madden

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections