Biden Calls Iowa ‘Key to the Kingdom’ While Campaign Says It’s Not Must-Win

'You can't get out through Iowa, you can't go any further'

Former U.S. vice president Joe Biden / Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign said Iowa wasn't a must-win state for his hopes of winning the Democratic nomination, but Biden said in a recent interview the first caucus state held the "key to the kingdom."

A senior adviser told campaign reporters at a background briefing Tuesday that Iowa was "critical" but downplayed the significance of winning it.

"Do I think we have to win Iowa? No," the adviser said. According to Politico, the campaign went on to lay out how it was already preparing for Super Tuesday.

However, Biden told NPR in an interview posted Tuesday that Iowa was critical to winning the nomination.

"This certainly isn't your first time in Iowa," said Iowa Public Radio host Clay Masters. "You've run for president in the past. Certainly, you've spent a lot of time in Iowa. What have you learned from the past times when you've run?"

"Well, I learned you hold the key to the kingdom," Biden said. "You can't get out through Iowa, you can't go any further. And I've learned that the people of Iowa, you know, they're really informed, and they're really concerned about what's going on."

Biden added he didn't see major distinctions between Democrats in the early caucus and primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

"I've never seen the party as certain of the need to defeat the incumbent president. I mean, it's the overarching thing that everyone, no matter where I am, talks about," Biden said.

Biden didn't make it to the Iowa caucuses in 1988, dropping out months beforehand after his plagiarism scandal came to light. In 2008, he finished a distant fifth and quit the race.

In the last four open Democratic primaries, the eventual nominee won Iowa: Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004, Barack Obama in 2008, and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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The campaign also lowered expectations in New Hampshire, the first primary state. Biden's top competitors Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) hail from nearby states.

"As you all know, historically, there's an incredible home field advantage for a Massachusetts candidate or a New Englander," an adviser said.

Biden is still the Democratic frontrunner, but Warren and Sanders are close behind in national and early-state polling. Biden has centered his campaign around portraying himself as the best candidate to defeat President Donald Trump in 2020.