Sen. Biden looks to ‘slow and steady’ approach to overtake Edwards in Iowa

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) is trailing almost all of his Democratic rivals in the crucial first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, but his campaign insists the longtime senator is building a “textbook” strategy that will propel him to third place.

The Biden campaign says it can shock the political world on Jan. 3 provided it succeeds on two fronts: soliciting support from elected officials in the state on the same level as front-running candidates Sens. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Democratic race for president may not sort itself out 'Too Far Left' hashtag trends on Twitter Krystal Ball: Patrick's 2020 bid is particularly 'troublesome' for Warren MORE (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), and focusing on rural and older caucus-goers.

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Biden is not alone in his quest for what many candidates claim is the third ticket out of the state. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is still polling firmly in fourth, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) has all but moved to the state, and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) still appears to be solidly in third place.

One analyst noted that the combined poll numbers of Biden and Dodd do not equal those of Richardson.

That said, the Biden campaign is confident that the arcane system of the Democratic caucuses will help highlight their candidate’s significant experience in the Senate, particularly in the area of foreign affairs.

Danny O’Brien, Biden’s Iowa state director, conceded to The Hill that the campaign strategy of steadily and methodically securing endorsements and going from living room to living room is “not very sexy, but it is the traditional textbook approach.”

O’Brien and other Biden aides note that the average caucus-goer is projected to be 61 years old, a factor that has been overlooked in the rock-star craze associated with the leading candidates.

He also said that while the top nine cities in the state contribute to 49 percent of the delegates awarded, the remaining 51 percent come from rural areas. The candidate and the campaign have been focused on the latter areas, O’Brien said.

Those voters are “less taken by the celebrity facet, the stardom,” O’Brien said. “They’re not caught up in it the way the folks in the national media markets following it [are].”

Biden is set to complete his 21st trip to the state Wednesday. By the morning, he will have campaigned in 85 of Iowa’s 99 counties, the campaign said.

The campaign is also counting on the 14 endorsements from the state legislators, including the House majority leader and three of the four assistant majority leaders.

Biden aide David Wilhelm compared this race to 1987, when the senator was seen as surging before a scandal over plagiarized remarks led to his early withdrawal.

Wilhelm, who ran the 1987 campaign, noted that Biden was able to pick up a lot of support the first time around by securing the support of elected officials, something the campaign has tried to replicate this time.

“We had them in ’87, and I think we’re picking them up again this time,” Wilhelm said.

In contrast to Biden’s 14 state House endorsements, Obama has 17, Edwards has 10 and Dodd has three. The Clinton campaign did not respond to a question for this story, but one count shows the senator with 19 Iowa legislators supporting her bid.

Regardless, Wilhelm says, the number Biden has secured is “stunning” given his low poll numbers.

“The poll numbers will follow those legislative endorsements because that’s the way Iowa works,” he said.

Wilhelm agreed that those endorsements have to provide the senator with some traction, and that is most likely to happen with more seasoned caucus-goers in rural areas “where national security matters more, where celebrity… matters less.”

Wilhelm acknowledged that there is a hope within the campaign that Edwards will be perceived to be too negative as he continues to go after Clinton, resulting in a significant downturn in his support.

“That has got to be the Biden strategy and hope,” Wilhelm said.

The Edwards campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Wilhelm also acknowledged that the campaign will have to get past Richardson before it can hope to overtake Edwards.

Dennis Goldford, a political analyst at Iowa’s Drake University, said that if Biden hopes to “catch lightning in a bottle,” Edwards will need to implode while Richardson fades.

But Goldford cautioned that even if Edwards’s support went elsewhere, Obama would likely benefit the most, since he has split the anti-Clinton vote from the start.

Still, Goldford said, if Edwards “starts to weaken … it opens it up for a lot of other people,” including Richardson, Dodd and Biden.

“That would really be a caucus story if Biden or Dodd could leap into third,” Goldford said. “The path for somebody like Biden is very much uphill.”

The most recent poll out of Iowa shows Biden well behind the rest of the pack with 4 percent. Edwards comes in at third with 22 percent and Richardson registers 11 percent. Dodd was not noted in the poll.

Biden aides say they are well aware of where the poll numbers stand, but in Iowa, anything can and usually does happen.

“Thank God for Iowa,” Wilhelm said. “If a guy like Joe Biden is going to have a chance anywhere in a celebrity-driven political contest, it’s going to be in Iowa, where celebrity probably matters the least.”