DES MOINES, Iowa -- As Vice President Joe Biden mulls whether to jump into the presidential race, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and the rest of the Democratic field are progressively solidifying their campaign infrastructures in Iowa and securing commitments from activists around the state.
“I’m for Hillary because Joe Biden hasn’t started raising money, and he hasn’t said anything about a platform,” Gloria Gardner, 63, a retired Wal-Mart clerk in Council Bluffs, said on Wednesday. “I think it’s too late for him if he even tried. And I don’t know if his heart is really in it.”
The caucuses are now less than four months away and in a state where grassroots organizing is crucial, the Draft Biden effort has just two paid staffers on the ground compared to Hillary Clinton’s 78 and Sanders’ 60 organizers. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign even has 36 paid staffers mobilized throughout the state.
“[A Biden campaign] can’t build a traditional structure. They don’t have enough time, resources or people,” Jeff Link, longtime Democratic strategist in Iowa, said. “So they have to figure out another way to do it. With the Internet and digital organizing—is there a way to do it? Could be. But my experience is you need to have some person in every one of those caucus rooms on caucus night who knows what they’re doing.”
Despite the dwindling time, backers close to Biden in the state are deploring what they say is pressure by the Clinton campaign on Biden to make his decision on a run at a time when her campaign is challenged.
Clinton seemingly warned Biden during a New Hampshire town hall on the TODAY Show on Monday about the repercussions of entering the race, saying, “Once you're in the political fray, then everybody begins to ask you questions and you are being pushed and pulled in many different directions.”
The former secretary of state announced on Wednesday her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, putting Biden in the position of being the only candidate to support the trade deal if he were to enter the race.
While Biden’s decision lingers, the campaigns of Clinton and the other Democrats continue to move forward—to the Democratic debate on Tuesday and then Iowa's celebrated annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner, which brings in party loyalists and candidates, on October 24.
Draft Biden in Iowa is aggressively pushing ahead despite the late start. Clinton announced her candidacy—and began moving a campaign team to Iowa—six months ago.
“We’re trying to have face to face meetings and rally the troops and encourage people to get involved in our volunteer efforts,” Draft Biden’s Iowa state director Ellen Goodmann Miller said this week.
Goodmann Miller added: “Absolutely once a decision is made, people can go with Clinton or Sanders, but for now, we're asking people to remain open. It’s not too late for him to get in.”
Draft Biden has nine Iowa legislators and more than 30 Democratic activists backing the movement —plus Iowa political strategists Joe Shannahan and Jesse Harris. Shanahan told NBC News this week the pair would be ready to help the campaign on day one.
Potentially more concerning for a potential Biden campaign is that caucus goers are increasingly committing to his potential Democratic rivals.
“I think it’s a few months too late, frankly, and Joe Biden is a good man” said Larry Clausen, 65, of Muscatine.
Clausen backed Obama in 2008—and continually noted to NBC News his admiration for the vice president. He said Biden—unprompted—visited children at the elementary school where he teaches after a campaign stop in 2012. But along with his wife, Marcy, the couple is committed to caucusing for Clinton.
“If Mrs. Clinton wasn’t running, I’d support him. But with Mrs. Clinton in the race and Republicans in such disarray, I don’t want us to step back. I want to win,” Clausen said.
The most recent poll from NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist suggests a Biden run would ultimately siphon more support for the vice president from Clinton than Sanders.
With Biden in the race, Clinton claimed 42 percent against Sanders’ 35 percent and Biden’s 17 percent. Without Biden in the race, the margin between Clinton and Sanders grew from seven percent to 15 percent.
Allison Simpson, 38, an early childhood education teacher and full-time student at Clarke University in Dubuque, is one of those Clinton-to-Biden Iowans. Despite filling out a campaign commitment card for Clinton this spring and canvassing on behalf of the candidate up until two months ago, Simpson said she is no longer volunteering and is waiting for Biden’s decision.
“I’m hoping he [announces] it soon so we’re not losing others to committing to other candidates,” Simpson said.
One of Simpson’s examples is her aunt, Pam Jochum, the Iowa Senate President, who announced her endorsement of Clinton this week. Jochum chaired Barack Obama's leadership team in the Dubuque area in 2007.
“There was a market early on this race for a candidate who was not Secretary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders occupied that space,” Link said, noting the landscape would likely be much different had Biden jumped in during the spring.
Sanders is continuing to draw large, boisterous crowds. Across the state, Sanders is noticeably attracting the attention of many from the 2008 Obama coalition but also supporters of the runner-up in the 2008 caucus, John Edwards.
Lindsay Henderson, 34, of Webster City, attended a county party town hall with Sanders two weeks ago in Fort Dodge. She backed Edwards in 2008 because he was “the furthest left out of everybody in the race.” She said there is no reason Sanders won’t draw Edwards’ 2008 coalition.
“I think Bernie is capable of pulling in anybody who is true to keeping left ideals and isn’t going to roll with the establishment,” Henderson said.
The Sanders campaign in the state, however, said it started its grassroots campaign without targeting specific voters based on previous caucuses.
“We don’t compare it to past caucuses. We don’t look at what other campaigns are doing,” Pete D’Alessandro, Sanders’ Iowa state director, said after the senator’s trip through the state last weekend. “We’ve got a plan, and we’re just going to stick to our plan. Because as of now, it looks like it’s working.”
Ann Selzer, a respected Iowa pollster, assessed Sanders’ early backers in the state.
“Bernie Sanders’ support was strongest among people who were young, among people for whom this would be their first caucus, and among people whom consider themselves politically independent rather than registered Democrats,” Ann Selzer, a respected Iowa pollster, assessed.
Martin O’Malley’s campaign also remains markedly active in the state. The former Maryland governor hopes to garner greater attention and name recognition after next Tuesday’s Democratic debate.
His campaign is quietly gaining endorsements from local officials and activists, and at county meetings across the state, he is not infrequently cited as the best Democratic option because of his record as governor.
Clinton, on the other hand, comes in with a rock of support built in 2008.
“Somebody asked me how long I’ve been working on the campaign--I said 2008. I haven’t stopped working on the campaign,” Cindy Pollard, 58, a retired nurse, said outside a Clinton campaign stop in Newton, Iowa, last month.
For Clinton’s second go-around, Pollard is leading door-knocking on Saturdays and phone bank sessions for the neighborhood on Tuesdays.
“There aren’t too many who aren’t [back with Clinton]. A majority of them are with Hillary. I’m meeting with them everyday. People remember me back from ‘08.”
Concurrently, Biden loyalists remain patient, as one tells NBC News: “I think anyone who is supporting the vice president is willing to let him make his decision on his time. And I don’t think anybody else—CNN with its debate or anyone else—can push him. It needs to be right for him, and he’ll decide when he’s ready to decide.”