CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (Reuters) - When U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden went to an Iowa university to campaign this week, one thing was in short supply: students who support him.
“What’s an old guy like you going to do to get the young people to come out and vote,” a person at a University of Northern Iowa (UNI) town hall asked Biden on Monday, noting “there’s not very many here.”
Biden, 77, joked that it can be difficult to get college students to show up before 4 p.m. and, indeed, a few more young people appeared at a later campaign event at the University of Iowa.
He then pivoted to a core argument of his campaign - Biden is the only candidate bringing many kinds of people together.
“I’m the only one that gets a significant portion of the young vote, as well as the old vote, in-between vote, black vote, Hispanic vote, all the vote,” Biden said. “An old guy like me is pretty good.”
Biden is rallying support in the final days before the Democrats’ first presidential nominating contest is held in Iowa next Monday. He is going to larger cities, including Cedar Rapids, and college towns like Cedar Falls, where some of his competitors have pronounced strengths.
Polls show the former vice president, who leads nationally among Democrats, in a closer fight with Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg in Iowa.
Biden leads among Iowans 65 years and older, with 41%, and Warren is second at 11%, according to a recent Suffolk/USA Today poll here that also showed Biden leading overall. He has also done well with rural residents.
Where Biden’s previous long bus tour in Iowa was focused more rural areas, with an average population of 9,000, he is expected in population centres averaging 50,000 people in the near 10-day tour underway ahead of Iowa’s caucus.
With many Iowans still undecided about the close race, Biden and his rivals are seeking supporters everywhere.
Democrats eager to oust Republican President Donald Trump are expected to caucus in higher-than-normal numbers.
That extends to young Iowans as well, an area where Sanders enjoys a more than five-to-one advantage compared with Biden, according to a CIRCLE-Tisch College/Suffolk University Iowa youth poll here
Days before Biden came to UNI and spoke to about 125 largely older people, Sanders supporter and freshman lawmaker Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez drew a passionate younger crowd there. Sanders himself attracted several hundred people when he spoke at the university last year, local media reported.
Most young Sanders supporters said they would support Biden if he is the Democrats’ nominee but not enthusiastically.
Alladin Dafalla, a UNI junior who supports Biden, said many of his classmates were liberal and in favour of more extensive funding for college education than Biden advocates.
“Joe speaks about how he works across the aisle, and students don’t like that,” said Dafalla. “He can get the swing votes, the independents. That’s something I’m not sure Bernie and Warren would be able to get.”
Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and Chris Kahn in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum