But for a campaign that has often touted polls and his perceived electability, it was a unique concession: Biden could afford to lose the first two contests.
“Do I think we have to win Iowa? No,” one top adviser said, like the others speaking to reporters on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking. “Do we want to win Iowa? Yeah.”
When speaking about New Hampshire, the adviser added, “Historically, there’s an incredible home field advantage for a Massachusetts candidate, or a New Englander for that matter.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is from next-door Massachusetts, and Sen. Bernie Sanders is from neighboring Vermont.
“We expect this to go one for a while,” the adviser added.
During Biden’s previous two presidential campaigns, Iowa was a thorn. In his first race, it was the scene of him plagiarizing words from a British politician, which led him to drop out of the race in 1987, well before the next year’s caucuses. During the 2008 campaign, he received less than 1 percent of the vote and soon dropped out.
The state does not line up with Biden’s perceived demographic strengths, lacking a substantial population of black voters, who have provided a strong base of his support nationally and in other early-voting states such as South Carolina.
His campaign advisers’ description of his approach to Iowa is similar to one that Biden himself has made, conveying a mixture of humility that he could lose while trying to project strength that he hopes to win.
During an Iowa trip last month, Biden told the crowd that he thought the state held “the keys to the kingdom.”
When asked by a reporter as he walked to the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding dinner in Clear Lake whether that meant he viewed the state as a must-win for him, Biden responded: “No. I think you’ve got to finish at the top. You’ve got to be competitive.”
He said that he thought the state would perform its traditional role of winnowing the field and that he hoped he would be among those who advanced.
Biden advisers on Tuesday also tried to rebut any concerns by voters that his gaffes are all that significant, saying that voters generally feel that they know him and know what he means even when he makes verbal mistakes.
“The newest story line is Biden making gaffes and mistakes. People say, ‘How is it possible he says these things and voters rally to him?’ ” one adviser said. “There’s a depth of understanding that people believe they know him. They trust him. They believe him.”
They also attempted to dispel the notion that he is not in line with the current Democratic Party. They said the party is older and more ideologically diverse than is often pointed out.
“When I hear that Joe Biden is out of step with the Democratic Party, I look at it and I think he is most representative of the Democratic Party — more than anybody,” one of the Biden advisers said.
“The Democratic Party is more than Twitter,” the adviser added. “And it’s more than just a slice of the ideological spectrum. The Democratic Party represents a lot of interests. It’s older than people want to admit sometimes. It’s more ideologically diverse.”
The aides also said the country is looking for the kind of uplifting message that Biden promotes.
Biden has a “more optimistic vision,” one senior adviser said. “Sometimes the Democratic message is so negative, almost exclusively negative. It doesn’t offer a lot of hope or optimism in the future.”
They conceded that Biden’s standing with young voters is not as strong, which they said reflects unfamiliarity with his record.