Looks like Joe Biden is taking the Democratic primary campaign seriously for a change.

Strategist David Axelrod, who worked closely with the ex-vice president during the Obama administration and both campaigns, says Biden’s handlers have had “him in the candidate-protection program.”

1)   He’s old.

And 2) You may recall Biden is prone to gaffes, like earlier this fall when he asked an Iowa audience how the infrastructure was holding up there in Ohio.

But finally this weekend, 32 weeks after he launched his campaign and just nine weeks before the Iowa caucuses, Biden set out on an eight-day bus tour, his longest swing this cycle. T.J. Ducko, Biden’s campaign manager, explained:

The goal is to have him connect with people one-on-one. It is a very close race as we get close to voting with the four (leading) folks. And that was always the expectation.

Right. You bet. It was Biden’s plan all along to blow a double-digit lead in Iowa and plummet to fourth place behind Bernie and Liz and the kid mayor from South Bend, who speaks Midwestern and now leads.

Biden’s campaign tried to hype the bus tour by saying it would travel 800 miles, which is a whole bunch in Delaware but a lot less west of the Mississippi. That works out to 100 miles a day on country roads, which leaves little time for those one-on-ones.

The Biden tour will hit 18 counties, which also sounds like a lot if you’re from tiny Delaware, which has all of three counties in its 2,490 square miles. But Iowa’s 56,000 square miles have 99 counties.

Some candidates like Rick Santorum, who are serious about the caucus competition, visit all 99. That helped him win the 2012 GOP caucus by 34 votes over Mitt Romney. Santorum would never have won the White House without that caucus showing. Oh, wait.

This bus tour is both a refreshing sign of energy for the somnolent Biden campaign, and a sign of desperation. John Edwards took one in 2008. But the bus broke down and became a symbol of his second-place futility.

Iowa seems to encourage stunts. Remember also in 2008 Connecticut’s Chris Dodd moved his entire family to Iowa to show how much he loved the Hawkeye state. Hopefully, he had a short-term lease because Dodd lost badly and dropped out. As did – oh, look! – Joe Biden.

Bus tours are a great way, however, to earn free media. Which is very helpful if, like Joe, your fundraising efforts have fallen short, as usual.

Seems funny to say Biden’s third quarter $15.2 million haul was weak. But he came in behind Bernie’s $25.3 million, Liz’s $24.6 million and the $19.1 million of Pete Buttigieg, who wasn’t even born til the middle of Biden’s second Senate term.

Plus Joe’s outgo has been much faster than his income, as he built out a national operation. And Joe has a history, especially as VP on the taxpayer’s dime, of shall we say not opting for Budget Inns.(In Paris, Biden’s official party once ran up a hotel bill in excess of a half-million dollars–for one night.)

At the end of September, Joe had but $9 million left in the bank. Time spent fundraising is time lost campaigning.

Biden is still leading in national polls, which are slower than state surveys to reflect grassroots trends.

But he’s running fourth in Iowa at the moment and fourth in New Hampshire, the first two states where primary victories can add a palpable aura of candidate credibility. (See Obama 2008 and Hillary 2016)

Biden’s counting on his less leftist stances and minority support in South Carolina and Nevada as political firewalls. That could be, as long as voters there don’t see lackluster showings up North as suggestions that maybe Biden at the age of 28,136 days really is too old.

On Inauguration Day in 2020, a President Joe Biden would be 78, older coming into office than any American president ever leaving office, even after two terms.