Biden's Iowa hires signal tightening in state Trump won big

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at McGregor Industries in Dunmore, Pa., Thursday, July 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Joe Biden's presidential campaign has lined up a senior team in Iowa, a sign Democrats see the state where Republican Donald Trump beat them handily in 2016 as within reach.

Although Iowa's six Electoral College votes hardly make the state a political jackpot, a competitive race for them this fall could signal problems for Trump in other northern states he won by smaller margins and would likely need to carry again to win reelection, chiefly Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

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“I don’t know who will win Iowa, but I think the state is in contention in a way that six months ago you might not have suspected,” said David Axelrod, a former senior strategist to President Barack Obama. “The fact that Iowa is a close race means that those other states are very much in jeopardy for Trump.”

Biden has named veteran Democratic operative Jackie Norris as the senior adviser for his general election team in Iowa, where Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 9.4 percentage points in 2016, the campaign confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Norris, who was president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Central Iowa until May, was the senior adviser to Obama's winning 2008 Iowa caucus campaign and later directed Obama's winning 2008 Iowa general election campaign before being tapped to serve as Michelle Obama's first chief of staff in Washington.

Joining Norris as Biden's Iowa campaign director is Lauren Dillon, who directed Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's 2020 Iowa caucus campaign. She was a senior advertising strategist for Democratic Senate candidates during the 2018 midterm elections after serving in several roles at the Democratic National Committee.

A Des Moines Register poll last month showed the race nearly tied in Iowa. Trump led Biden by more than 10 percentage points in the Register's March poll.

The tightening in Iowa follows incremental gains by Democrats since Trump carried the state.

After a decade of steady Republican gains capped by Trump's 2016 win, Democrats ousted two Republican House members in 2018, while also picking up seats in the legislature. Democrats have since pulled near even with Republicans in voter registration for the first time in seven years.

Trump's campaign spent more than $400,000 in Iowa from April through late June, according to advertising data obtained by the AP. Meanwhile, Trump has reserved at least $5 million in advertising time in Iowa this fall, according to Advertising Analytics, a nonpartisan ad-tracking group.

“Trump folks know it is in play because they are advertising here,” said former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat who endorsed Biden last year.

Biden aides declined to say whether they planned an Iowa advertising campaign, though Democratic operatives unaffiliated with the campaign suggested one would be likely should the race remain close, given how relatively inexpensive television time is in the state.

Besides Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Biden has staff organizing in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.

The Trump campaign named a senior Iowa team almost a year ago, including Eric Branstad, son of former Gov. Terry Branstad, as senior adviser.

Though Trump campaign aides declined to comment on the advertising, campaign spokesperson Preya Samsundar said the campaign had made more than a million voter contacts in the state and had volunteers in all of Iowa's 99 counties.


Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

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