vision 2020

How Much Did Iowa Slow Joe’s Roll?

Uncle Joe, not off to the best start for 2020. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

At various points during the invisible primary that was supposed to end with Monday night’s Iowa caucuses, that state looked as if it might become the launching point for a Biden blitz that could all but put away the nomination fight by the end of February. As recently as last week, the former veep led Iowa in a survey from the well-regarded Monmouth outfit. It was plausible that a win there, perhaps compounded by a damagingly poor performance by “moderate lane” challengers Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, could have given Biden enough of a bounce to push him past Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire and/or Nevada and then propel him to the safe haven of South Carolina, where he has led every poll this entire cycle.

But partial results from Iowa released by the state’s Democratic party on Tuesday confirmed what tepid crowds and an aborted Selzer poll had predicted: Biden badly underperformed in the state. By two measures — state delegates and raw vote totals — Biden came in fourth place, hardly the performance the (erstwhile?) frontrunner was hoping for.

Given these results, it’s understandable, if a bit cynical, that Team Biden was the quickest of the campaigns to complain about the reporting problems in Iowa and generally to cast doubt on their validity and relevance. Maybe the moment of maximum peril has passed, since we weren’t treated to any “Biden Bombs” chyrons scrolling beneath images of a tired, old-looking late-septuagenarian candidate on Caucus Night. But still, the unmistakable reality is that he underperformed in Iowa. Worse yet, Buttigieg appears to have done very well, and Klobuchar finished strongly enough to gain an unprecedented “fifth ticket out of Iowa.” That moderate lane isn’t getting any less crowded, and Biden’s fire-wall primary in South Carolina is still an eternal 25 days away.

That is Biden’s short-term challenge. His long-term challenge is Michael Bloomberg and his wallet, which await him on Super Tuesday and beyond. Buoyed by the confusion of the race post-Iowa, the former mayor has reportedly ordered his campaign to ramp up his spending to bloodcurdling levels:

Encouraged by the murky outcome, Mr. Bloomberg authorized his campaign team to double his spending on television commercials in every market where he is currently advertising and expand his campaign’s field staff to more than two thousand people, strategists involved in the conversations said.

If Biden continues to bump along at an uninspiring pace, particularly if Sanders continues to do well, then moderates and business types terrified of Bernie may start jumping onto Bloomberg’s golden chariot. It’s early, of course, and Biden has consistently defied prophecies of his imminent demise. But he needs a win sooner rather than later, and he should definitely do what he can to make Mayor Pete’s effort a comet that descends quickly over the New Hampshire skies.

Is Iowa a Bad Omen for Biden or Just a Bump in the Road?