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"It's going to be a dog fight": Biden camp downplays Iowa expectations

Biden asks voters to look past gaffes

Joe Biden's campaign tempered expectations for victory in Iowa on Tuesday while acknowledging the former vice president has to do a better job at attracting younger voters to his candidacy. 

The campaign said Tuesday that it expects the Democratic presidential primary to be a lengthy battle, with three or four other contenders sticking it out for the long run.

"We know it's going to be a dog fight," a senior campaign adviser told reporters on a conference call when asked whether the Iowa caucuses were considered a must-win contest. "Do I think we have to win Iowa? No," the adviser said. "We don't underestimate the impact…but we think there are several candidates in this field, probably three or four, who will be in this for a while." 

While there are still five months to go before voters in Iowa weigh in on the presidential election, the Biden campaign's efforts to downplay expectations for the first-in-the-nation caucuses signal the current front-runner is taking nothing for granted and that he expects the nomination could be a long slog. The comments come as Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has been steadily gaining ground and building out one of the most robust organizations in Iowa.

Campaign advisers also acknowledged that while Biden continues to lead in national and early state polls, his strongest supporters tend to skew older, and he has work to do in appealing to younger voters. "Biden's support is extraordinarily strong with older voters who make up 50-65 percent of the vote….it's a big base to have," said one adviser. "One thing we need to do a better job of — we are not as strong among younger voters." 

The campaign said that Biden will need to remind younger voters about his record on guns, especially his lead on the assault weapons ban. The issue of gun safety is often top of mind for younger voters, as is climate change. "It's important for younger voters to know...he stood up to the NRA," the adviser said. "He has a record that differentiates himself from the others in this campaign."

Biden's team also argued that he has the most diverse constituency of the 2020 contenders, highlighting his deep support among African-American voters, and the campaign believes that sets him apart from other competitors on the rise. "No Democratic candidate can or should win the nomination without a diverse coalition," the adviser said. The campaign also pointed to endorsements from six members of the Congressional Black Caucus. 

"The Democratic Party is more than Twitter," the adviser said. "The Democratic Party represents a lot of interests...it's older than people want to admit, it's more ideologically diverse, and it's a multi-racial coalition." 

Asked by CBS News how the campaign viewed the rise of Elizabeth Warren, and how Biden planned to approach her on the debate stage in Houston next week, senior advisers dismissed the notion that it would be a marquee matchup. 

"They aren't going to be the only two people" on the debate stage, the adviser said, calling the prospect of the two candidates sharing the stage for the first time "irrelevant."

"The way we approach the debate is to use the opportunity to talk directly to the audience at home," the adviser said. "We don't hear from voters that we are looking for someone at some point on the ideological spectrum."

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