The uneasiness of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is about more than the gaffes

Biden’s case to be president is wrapped in the notion that the only way to move past Trump, and to render the racism and bigotry Trump’s presidency has fostered an aberration, is to first move back to the Obama–Biden years. “Third term!” one supporter, waiting to snap a Biden selfie with a disposable camera, shouted during a Friday afternoon rally at a public park in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Yet even among Iowans who admire Biden and might be inclined to caucus for him when primary season begins in February, there’s a sense his argument and his approach might not be enough to beat candidates who are fresher or more progressive. Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren drew louder cheers and larger ovations at the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding, a big party dinner that brought more than 20 presidential contenders to Clear Lake’s historic Surf Ballroom. (It’s known for hosting the last performances of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper before their fatal plane crash.)

“I think some folks thought it would just be a cakewalk for him,” J.D. Scholten, an influential Iowa Democrat and congressional candidate, said of Biden in an interview with BuzzFeed News. “I think he’s going to have to earn it like every other candidate. More people know him, so there’s that advantage. But ultimately their campaign is going to have to do the hard work.”

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