CEDAR RAPIDS — Maybe the third time’s the charm, Charles Menge hopes.
He liked Joe Biden in 1988 and 2008, and Menge, of Cedar Rapids, is backing the former vice president in the race this time for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
“He has the grasp of what America is all about,” Menge said after attending Biden’s Iowa campaign kickoff Tuesday in Cedar Rapids. “He’ll repair the damage that’s been done and make sure it doesn’t get worse with four more years.”
That was at the core of Biden’s message to about 300 people at Veterans Memorial Building where he spoke for about 30 minutes and didn’t take questions.
The 2020 election will be different because “the very core values of our nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that’s made America ‘America’ is at stake, and we know why,” Biden, 76, said as he kicked off his first campaign swing through the first-in-the-nation caucus state. He made stops in Monticello and Dubuque, and will be in Iowa City on Wednesday. Doors open at 12:15 p.m. for a rally at Big Grove Brewery and Taproom, 1225 S. Gilbert St.
If limited to four years, Biden said, Donald Trump’s presidency “will go down in history as an aberrant moment in time. Give eight years to this administration, we’re going to forever and fundamentally change the character of the country.”
It’s not too late to repair the damage done by a Republican president “who embraced so many autocrats and dictators and stiff-armed our friends,” Biden asserted.
That’s uppermost in the mind of Ambassador Swati Dandekar of Marion. Not only would Biden unite the country with the dignity Americans expect of their president, but the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has the relationships with and respect of world leaders, said Dandekar, a former legislator and ambassador to the Asian Development Bank.
“He exemplifies what leadership is all about,” she said.
Biden talked about his blue-collar roots and said there is a moral obligation to build the middle class.
“The country was not built by Wall Street bankers and CEOs and hedge fund managers,” Biden said. “It was built by ordinary Americans doing extraordinary things. You built America.”
There will be time for details later, Biden said, but his priorities call for allowing people, regardless of where they get their health insurance, the opportunity of buying into a public option; making community college education free; creating millions of jobs by rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure; and by raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
He would pay for his agenda by eliminating “unnecessary loopholes” that, he said, have grown from $800 million under President Ronald Reagan to more than $1.6 trillion under Trump.
But the political system has been broken by a president “who wakes up every day to wage war on Twitter … while the rest of the world competing with us is waging the war for the future.”
Americans must demonstrate their belief in the American dream, in possibilities, he said.
“The only thing that can tear America apart, is no foreign enemy, is America itself,” Biden said. “We’ve got to stop.
“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. I want to make sure they know we are. We choose hope over failure. We choose unity over division. We choose truth over lies. We choose science over fiction,” he concluded.
Like Menge, Emily Krall Wieseler of Cedar Rapids has been a Biden fan a long time. “I can relate to him,” she said while draping her 4-week-old son, Atlas, with a Biden T-shirt.
She and her husband, Ryan Wieseler, are educators — he was at the rally on his lunch break and appreciated Biden’s support for education at all levels.
Vickie Rutan of rural Mount Vernon also is a Biden fan from way back.
“I’m definitely going to vote for him,” Rutan said as she waited to shake his hand.
Others were more circumspect. Elizabeth Egan of Marion also has seen Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who also are running for the Democratic nomination, because “as an Iowan, I take my responsibility to see the candidates seriously. I think highly of him, but I want to see others.”
Mike Nunemaker of Cedar Rapids, a former Republican, is “leaning” toward Biden, whom he believes he has the best chance against Trump.
“I can’t imagine four more years,” he said.
Jacy Ahmed of Cedar Rapids isn’t ready to commit to Biden but was encouraged by his comment that climate change is an existential threat and that he talked about details like noncompete agreements suppressing low-wage workers.
She likes South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, too.
“But I vote blue. I’ll vote for whoever the Democrat is,” she said.