A candidate can only be in one place at a time. While some candidates like Joe Sestak seem to figure out how to get around that issue, other candidates with high polling data like Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg need extra support to get exposure in early states like Iowa. But are family members brought on simply to cover more ground, or do candidates understand the significance of family to Iowan voters?
Jill Biden is an integral part of the Biden 2020 campaign. Almost mirroring the involvement of Hillary in Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign, Jill is everywhere. She joins Joe on the trail. She accompanies Joe to top-level fundraisers. She even does individual campaign stops. Interestingly enough, her individual events draw crowds that dwarf the attendance of many lower polling candidates. Personally, I attended an event at the state historical building featuring the former Second Lady. There were at least eight or so news teams from local, state, and national networks capturing the event. The crowd was surprisingly large – at least 50-60 attendees, which shocked me. It was the day after Joe’s weakest debate performance; a performance that some thought would knock him down a tier. Nevertheless, Jill brought a crowd. She didn’t only bring a crowd, but she also brought her granddaughter, Natalie Biden. Both Jill and Natalie met and talked with every single person there – the press, the attendees, and the state troopers providing security.
Why Jill? Why Natalie? Why do a campaign stop without Joe? For starters, it would not have been a good idea for Joe to parade around Des Moines after faltering in one of the first debates. But it cuts deeper than that. Joe and Jill Biden have always been about family, and – more importantly – they understand that Iowans care about family too. Recent Iowa Caucus winners on both sides – Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, and Barack Obama – all very publically touted their family bond. While Joe shares his more traditional family, a new family dynamic has appeared on the Iowa campaign trail.
Pete Buttigieg is both the most and least traditional presidential candidate to be running in 2020. He is a Christian, Ivy League veteran from a small town in the Midwest. Like Clinton, he won the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. But unlike any other president or candidate, he is openly gay. He is also the first presidential candidate to find their spouse on a dating app. At first, glance, opening up his family could be a dangerous move for Mayor Pete. Iowa is the state that ran a campaign to fire judges who legalized same-sex marriage. Instead of shying away from his marriage, Pete has brought on his husband, Chasten, to have an integral role in the campaign. Notably appearing on the cover of Times magazine, Chasten is about as recognizable as the Mayor himself. Chasten has a very active and popular Twitter account, and like Dr. Jill Biden, he has held his own campaign events with a high turnout. Even just stopping by a local store, Raygun, during Pride Week was deemed worthy of coverage.
As issues affecting families – guns, education, health care – continue to gain steam, candidates will continue to bring their own families on the trail to show Iowans and Americans alike that family is a priority. And, as a frequent caucus goer, I am excited to hear more stories about candidates’ first dates, their childrens’ birthday parties, and the family dynamic that could occupy the White House come 2021.