Biden, Trump trade blows while crisscrossing Iowa

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE and Democratic presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from the Democratic debate As Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Leading Democrats largely pull punches at debate MORE traded blows on Tuesday as the men held events simultaneously in Iowa, previewing what could be a fierce 2020 battle in the months to come.

In Biden's first major speeches to prospective voters in Iowa, the former vice president took direct aim at Trump, uttering the president's name numerous times and painting him as an “existential threat” to the country's well-being.

"President Trump is in Iowa today," Biden told a crowd in Ottumwa, Iowa. "And I hope his presence here will be a clarifying event."

Trump, who was in Iowa to promote his administration's energy policy and speak to state GOP leaders, unleashed a torrent of criticism against Biden before he even left the White House and remained on the offensive upon landing in the Hawkeye State.

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Trump compared Biden to his 2016 Democratic opponent, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonAs Buttigieg rises, Biden is still the target Harris rips Gabbard over Fox appearances during Obama years Steyer, Gabbard and Yang shut out of early minutes of Democratic debate MORE, suggesting the former vice president’s platform was limited to opposition to the president.

"He was some place in Iowa today, and he said my name so many ties people couldn’t stand it anymore." Trump said while standing behind a podium bearing the presidential seal. "Sleepy guy."

The significance of their proximity and verbal back-and-forth was underscored by a new poll released midday Tuesday that showed Biden with a healthy lead over Trump in a hypothetical 2020 matchup.

The Quinnipiac University Poll found Biden taking 53 percent against 40 percent for Trump, with the poll's assistant director describing it as a "landslide" margin. 

The president was in Iowa on official White House business, first detailing his administration's new policy on ethanol fuel in Council Bluffs before addressing a Republican dinner in West Des Moines. While the speaking engagements were not political events, Trump was unable to resist jabbing at Biden while the two men were separated by a stretch of state highway.

"America must never be held hostage to foreign suppliers of energy as we were under the Obama-Biden — Sleepy Joe — group," Trump said in Council Bluffs.

Earlier in the day, Trump called into question the 76-year-old Biden's mental and physical stamina.

"He’s a different guy," Trump, who will turn 73 on Friday, told reporters as he departed for Iowa. "He looks different than he used to. He acts different than he used to. He’s even slower than he used to be."

The president will need to defend each of the states he won in 2016 to secure reelection in 2020. Trump won Iowa by roughly 10 percentage points in the 2020 election, but the state has historically been competitive in presidential elections.

The state's farmers have borne the brunt of Trump's trade war with China, which has imposed tariffs on U.S. agricultural products. But the president has portrayed their financial losses as a noble sacrifice for the greater good and beseeched the group on Tuesday to support his agenda.

"Within a year and a half, I would say, you’ll be in the best position that you’ve been in in 15 years as farmers, and you deserve it," he said.

Biden seized on Trump's trade policies that put Iowans in the crosshairs in his own prepared remarks, portraying the president as an inexperienced politician who lacks empathy for working-class voters.

"Iowa farmers have been crushed by [Trump's] tariff war with China," Biden said. "He thinks that being tough is great. Well, it’s really easy to be tough when someone else absorbs the pain."

Iowa's importance to Biden is clear given it will host the first caucus of the Democratic primary cycle, and the former vice president appealed to those voters with an eye toward the general election.

"Four years of Donald Trump will be viewed as an aberration in American history," he said. "Eight years will fundamentally change who we are as a nation and how we’re viewed around the world."

Biden warned that Trump posed a "genuine threat to our core values" and the country's standing on the global stage, citing his handling of a 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., and more recently his tweets ahead of a D-Day ceremony in England mocking the mayor of London and actress Bette Midler.

The former vice president sought to contrast himself with Trump on issues such as climate change and health care as well as on the merits of character.

At the beginning of his remarks in Ottumwa, a heckler stood up to chastise Biden for his views on abortion.

As supporters drowned out the man with boos, Biden intervened.

"This is not a Trump rally. Let him go," he said, vowing to speak with the man after his speech.

Despite a fixation with Biden on Twitter and while traveling abroad, Trump has insisted publicly for months that he's not concerned with Biden, who has been perched atop Democratic primary polls since officially entering the race. 

The New York Times reported Monday night that Trump has instructed aides to deny that internal polling also shows Biden with a lead over the president.

Instead, Trump has been steadfast that Biden is his preferred candidate to face in 2020, setting up what could be a fiery rivalry for the next 17 months.

"I'd rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody," Trump said outside the White House. "I think he's the weakest mentally. And I like running against people that are weak mentally."