DUBUQUE, Iowa -- The Iowa caucuses ended Joe Biden's presidential ambitions in 2008, but a loyal core of his supporters in the state think 2016 could be different. And now, several key Iowa Democrats are speaking out, urging the vice president to give it a shot again.
"I think it's his time now," state Sen. Tony Bisignano (D), a longtime Biden backer, told The Huffington Post. "I think people are starting to realize that we need to take a look at another candidate. I don't know who better than the vice president."
Bisignano has been a Biden friend and supporter since 1987. It’s a personal relationship that never feels political, he said. In addition to his work as a lawmaker in the state capitol, Bisignano served as a president of a local AFSCME chapter, and could aid in rallying support from labor unions. He said he’s been able to convince other lawmakers to join the Biden movement.
"Joe Biden, if he gets in the race, is the most qualified candidate on both sides," Bisignano said. "His years in Congress, 40 some years in government."
State Rep. Bruce Hunter (D) worked on Biden's Iowa campaign in 2007. The two have kept in touch, even after Biden dropped out of the race on Jan. 3, 2008, after capturing less than 1 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses. Hunter and his wife, Betty, have entertained the Biden family at their home, and they make special visits to the White House to visit the vice president.
"We sat there for 45 minutes and just visited," Hunter said, recalling a trip to D.C. five years ago. "A little bit about politics, but mostly about family."
Hunter said he would support the vice president once again if he decides to jump into the race.
"I've made it very clear with all the campaigns around the state that until Joe makes a decision, I'm not committing to anybody," Hunter said. "If Joe decides to run for president, I'm immediately in his camp."
Hunter argued that vice president's genuine nature would set him apart in the 2016 campaign.
"Once you become friends with Joe Biden, you're always a friend of Joe Biden," Hunter said. "He's the real deal. When you say that's Joe, that’s Joe."
With just four months until the Iowa caucuses, the Draft Biden super PAC is ramping up its ground effort in early primary states and recently hired two longtime backers in Iowa.
"We're gaining momentum every day, supporters continue to come our way," Ellen Goodmann Miller, the super PAC's Iowa state director, said.
Goodmann Miller is one of the super PAC's two paid staff members in the state. Draft Biden launched in April, and has nearly met its fundraising goal of $3 million. Twenty elected officials have signed onto the Draft Biden effort, including Hunter and Bisignano.
"We continue to grow a really large steering committee of leaders from across the state who are going to be willing to step up and organize their counties, be precinct captains," Goodmann Miller said.
Support for Biden has been deeply rooted in Goodmann Miller's family for 30 years. Her mother, Teri, is one of the super PAC’s co-chairs and a longtime advocate. She recently traveled to Washington for the pope’s visit to the White House. Goodmann Miller said her mother had lunch with the vice president during the trip, but walked away still unsure whether Biden would run for president.
Dubuque, the 10th-largest city in Iowa, has been known as a Democratic stronghold. Goodmann Miller, who resides here, said the town is one of the most important for the Democratic caucus, and Democrats typically dominate the area, with an advantage of nearly 10,000 registered voters over Republicans. The county supported Democrats by double-digits in the last five presidential elections. Goodmann Miller added that Dubuque is a city where Biden has already laid valuable groundwork, garnering support even after his presidential ambitions faded.
"Northeastern Iowa is a stronghold for the Bidens, particularly where the Bidens have a lot of close relationships and friendships," Goodmann Miller said. "It's because the Dubuquers and northeastern Iowans share the same values that the Bidens do."
Half the population of Dubuque is Catholic, like Biden. Unlike the rest of Iowa, this area is not dependent on farming, with more of the population employed in construction and manufacturing than in agriculture. Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley have targeted voters in this town, also working to gain support from influential local labor unions.
Support for Biden isn’t limited to Dubuque. The vice president earned 14 percent of support in the latest Des Moines Register/ Bloomberg Poll, even though he hasn't declared.
"His likability and trustworthiness are very high," Bisignano said. "I think he's what the Democrats need to win this presidential election."
With the first Democratic debate a little more than a week away, many speculate that the vice president is running out of time. He may face several challenges in developing a ground operation in Iowa, months after his competitors. Hillary Clinton now has 17 offices across the state and 78 paid organizers. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has 15 offices and 60 field organizers.
But Biden loyalists are optimistic.
"I don't think it's too late at all," Hunter said. "It may be too late for a brand-new candidate. Joe is known in the state of Iowa. He's been here quite a bit."
"A great many people are not committed in this race," Bisignano noted. "A lot of them are even soft in their commitment to what candidate they've chosen so far."
After the death of a son to brain cancer, Biden is considering whether he has the emotional energy for another campaign. Bisignano said he can relate to what Biden is going through -- since he lost a son in a car accident 20 years ago -- and believes that the loss could give Biden strength beyond what he thought he had.
"This is a man who has suffered more than anyone should have to suffer in his life of family tragedy and loss and he's carried on and done great things," Bisignano said.
Ultimately, however, Biden's backers said they want the vice president to do what feels best.
"If he decides running for president isn't in the cards this time, I'll respect him for it," Hunter said. "I selfishly hope he does."
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