On Friday, Julie Allen, a 62-year-old Medicaid consultant, took time off work to sit in the scorching sun at a midday, open-air rally for Joe Biden in Boone, Iowa. In 2016, she told me, she was “all in” for Bernie Sanders, but she now feels “he’s past his time,” and as she considers her choices for the February caucuses, he’s no longer in her top five. Instead, she’s weighing Biden, whom she supported in 2008, as well as Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana.
She liked the idea of a Biden-Warren ticket, or maybe even a Warren-Biden one, since he already knows how to do the job of vice president. “There’s all these comparisons between how Warren and Bernie are so much alike,” she said. “I really think Warren and Biden are much more alike.”
This surprised me, since Warren and Biden are so far apart ideologically. But over the course of a frenetic campaign weekend in Iowa, when most of the Democratic field descended on the state, I heard the comparison more than once. Waiting to see Warren speak at the Iowa State Fair, I met Janice Martins and Kay Havenstrite, Democrats from rural farming families that, they said, have been devastated by Donald Trump’s tariffs. Both were torn between Warren and Biden. “They have a lot of differences, but there’s a lot of similarities as well,” said Martins, 49, pointing out the various ways that Biden has moved left in recent years.
After watching Biden and Warren campaign in Iowa, I think I understand why some people group them together. Both candidates are folksy, white and in their seventies. Both speak of the searing childhood experience of seeing their fathers lose their jobs, and both make economic security for the middle class central to their stump speeches. They are sincere and unscripted and have the comforting aspect of benevolent parents. Talking to voters who admire both of them, I realized, not for the first time, how little the ideological lanes that we talk about in punditland really mean.