DES MOINES, Iowa — When Joe Biden was last in Iowa, his presidential campaign was on the verge of collapse and he was soundly trounced in the caucuses by a former Indiana mayor nearly 40 years his junior. He returns Friday as the Democratic nominee, believing he's just days away from becoming president-elect.
Biden's trip reflects the remarkable arc of his third presidential campaign. He entered the race as the most experienced candidate in a crowded primary, but was overshadowed by fresh faces who dazzled Democratic voters and nearly ran out of money.
But Democrats have rallied behind Biden as their best candidate to defeat President Donald Trump and unify a country facing health, economic and social crises. And the money woes that plagued Biden during the primary have vanished as he's built a nearly two-to-one cash advantage over Trump that's allowed him to flood the airwaves and make ambitious plays for states like Iowa, which flipped to Republican in 2016.
The dramatic nature of Biden's rise is eclipsed only by the challenges faced by Trump — whose confidence in his reelection was dealt a devastating blow by the coronavirus pandemic this spring, with the public health and economic crises still rearing their heads in the days leading up to the close of polling.
With four days until the election and more than 80 million votes already cast, time is running out for Trump and Biden to change the shape of the race. Biden is leading most national polls and has a narrow advantage in many of the critical battlegrounds that could decide the race.
Friday marks the beginning of the critical final stretch before the election. Trump’s closing sprint to Election Day also includes three stops in Pennsylvania on Saturday and nearly a dozen events in the final 48 hours across states he carried in 2016.
After Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota on Friday, Biden will hit Michigan on Saturday, where he’ll hold a joint rally with former President Barack Obama.
Biden has held fewer events in a nod to the restrictions in place across the country to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The virus has killed more than 228,000 people in the United States, and cases are surging across the country, threatening an economic recovery Trump had aimed to champion.
Trump on Thursday celebrated a new federal estimate that the economy grew at a stunning 33.1% annual rate in the July-September quarter — by far the largest quarterly gain on record — making up ground from its epic plunge in the spring, when the eruption of the coronavirus closed businesses and threw tens of millions of people out of work.
“So glad this great GDP number came out before November 3rd,” Trump tweeted, predicting a dire reversal if Biden is elected.
But economists warned that the economy is already weakening again and facing renewed threats as confirmed viral cases surge, hiring has slowed and federal stimulus help has mostly run out.
Biden said, “The recovery is slowing if not stalling, and the recovery that is happening is helping those at the top but leaving tens of millions of working families and small businesses behind.”
Biden's running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, was set to campaign across Texas on Friday, aiming to chip into Republicans’ historic advantage in the diversifying and increasingly competitive state.
Trump's campaign said it will cap his planned rally Friday in Rochester, Minnesota to 250 people at the insistence of state and local officials. The announcement comes as Trump has packed thousands of supporters, most not wearing masks, into similar rallies across the country, despite the raging coronavirus pandemic.
“Thanks to the free speech-stifling dictates of Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, only the first 250 people will be admitted," the campaign told supporters. The Minnesota Department of Health has linked 28 coronavirus cases to other recent Trump campaign events in the state.
Trump is banking on local news coverage of his rallies to overcome a substantial advertising deficit stemming from a late cash crunch. Biden and his allies are outspending Trump and his backers by a more than 3-1 ratio in Florida — about $23 million to about $7 million — in the final push to Election Day, according to data from ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
Biden, meanwhile, is pouring tens of millions of dollars into a torrent of online advertising that will deliver his closing message of the presidential campaign, highlighting his promise to govern for all Americans while blasting Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I will work as hard for those who don’t support me as those who do,” Biden says in one of the digital ads, which took over the masthead of YouTube Thursday. “That’s the job of a president — the duty to care for everyone.”
How much exactly Biden will spend is unclear. His campaign says it is putting a “mid-eight-figure” dollar amount behind over 100 different ads, which means they could be spending as little as $25 million — but potentially much more.
The ads will run on social media platforms including Instagram and Facebook, streaming services such as Hulu and music applications like Pandora.
The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, launched its closing message to voters Thursday, not mentioning Trump, in an apparent aim to help GOP candidates up and down the ballot with a focus on traditional Republican messages around lowering taxes and health care.
The aftereffects of Hurricane Zeta were holding back voters at a number of polling places in northern Florida and northern Georgia that lost power. In Douglas County, in Atlanta’s western suburbs, all six polling locations were without power, as were county offices.
As Biden aimed to hold his election night event in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, Trump, who had been scheduled to hold a party at his Washington, D.C. hotel, appeared to be rethinking plans.
“We’re thinking about moving it actually over to the White House,” Trump's son Eric told “Fox & Friends” on Friday. “We’re looking at that right now. It’s going to be a great night.”