By Vaughn Hillyard
The Draft Biden effort in Iowa officially launched just two weeks ago, but the coalition—despite being severely behind the organizing efforts of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders—is ramping up its ground campaign in the state.
“We really continue to gain support. We’re really trying to identify people who will be active chairs in their counties and precincts,” said Ellen Goodmann Miller, Draft Biden's Iowa state director.
On Thursday, 40 volunteers around the country made phone calls into Iowa to garner support and gather voter information on likely caucus-goers. Iowa volunteers kicked off their phone banking efforts this week as well.
Despite dwindling time until the caucus and strong backing of Clinton among elected officials, Draft Biden boosters say there is still ample opening for coalescing caucus-goers around the vice president.
“If you’re not committed to Hillary, then you’re not a Clinton supporter right now,” State Sen. Tony Bisignano, a Biden backer since 1987, told NBC News.
“You can go down the list of legislators and find that a great number of them aren’t committed. And they’re waiting for something," he said. "They’ve heard enough of Bernie. They know his message. They embrace the message. They’ve heard Hillary and the Clinton campaign for years. If you’re not on board today, then you’re the fruit that we’re going after. And I think it’s significant.”
One of Bisignano’s recruits is his desk neighbor in the state senate, Sen. Chaz Allen of Newton.
“I think he is the adult in the room,” Allen said. “He has the experience, and he has the relationships to be president.”
Goodmann Miller said Bisignano and Allen are two of 20 elected officials to sign onto the Iowa draft effort.
An additional 40 Democratic activists around the state have joined the group’s steering committee, which is focusing on garnering the next layer of volunteer commitments.
Dan Powers, 81, the dean emeritus of Drake University’s law school, is one of those on the steering committee. He attended Biden’s stop into the state—his last—this past February at Drake.
“He has it--and I’ll do anything and everything I can do. I don’t have money…but that’s why I want to do everything I can do.”
Draft Biden’s Iowa team is coordinating closely with the national team located in Chicago. It holds planning calls with chairs and directors from all 50 states three times a week.
To increase grassroots traction, the coalition is soon launching a social media push of photos and videos of Biden supporters wearing aviator sunglasses while holding papers up with their written reasons for supporting a potential Biden campaign.
Draft Biden, a super PAC, launched and began collecting backers’ information in April. An adviser says the group saw a large uptick in support after Biden’s appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert last week. And it’s nearly raised its fundraising goal of $3 million.
“We had a massive growth in our volunteer signups and people signing the petition to get him to run. Just handling volunteers and online traffic, it went up seven to ten times,” said James Rigdon, the national field director.
A Biden campaign would have to overcome significant deficits in the number of field organizers and infrastructure.
The Clinton campaign announced seven new organizing offices this week, increasing its total to 17 offices across the state. And 78 paid organizers for Clinton are on the ground in Iowa.
The Sanders campaign is operating out of 15 offices and paying 54 field organizers. It will add six more organizers onto its payroll by October 1.
Draft Biden is currently paying two staff members in Iowa — Goodmann Miller and a regional field organizer, Jackson Sump.
One of Biden’s steering committee members—Mary Maloney, 60, also the Polk County treasurer—acknowledged the group significantly trails Clinton, Sanders and Martin O’Malley in the state. The caucus is a little more than four months away.
“We hope to make a respectable showing [in Iowa]. But I don’t know,” Maloney said. “Given the time frame that we have and given the head start that the other candidates have and the commitments they have lined up, it could be difficult for us to win Iowa.”
But Maloney notes a loss in Iowa would not mean the end of a Biden run: “But if it’s a respectable showing and it gives him a launch to other places, then maybe we will have done our part. You always hope to win, but I’m realistic about that.”
Draft Biden leadership pushed back against the suggestion it will not focus as much attention and resources to Iowa and New Hampshire.
“We’re not giving up anywhere. Everyone likes to say it’s too late because everyone wants to act like they know everything,” Rigdon said.
“But the fact of the matter is the vice president’s poll number in Iowa, on his approval and trust ratings--he’s beating all the other candidates. And that’s without him even in the race.”
A National Review article on Thursday reported Josh Alcorn, a Draft Biden adviser, was overheard on a phone call aboard a train saying, “I am 100 percent Joe Biden is in” the race.
Draft Biden adviser Brad Bauman confirmed to NBC News on Friday that the phone call discussed in the story took place but pushed back against the suggestion the group knows whether Biden is entering the race.
“Since we don’t directly coordinate or talk with the vice president and his people, we obviously can’t be 100 percent certain of anything,” Bauman said.
“Our role is to work hard to be ready for the day that he decides to run. And if he should decide he’s not, we did everything that we could to make sure that we were.”