By Katie Glueck and Annie Karni
New York Times News Service
OTTUMWA, Iowa — President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden both traveled to the key early voting state of Iowa on Tuesday, trading attacks in sharply personal terms and giving the country a preview of what a general election matchup between the two men might look like.
Biden, who leads in early polls for the Democratic presidential nomination, described Trump as “an existential threat” who could fundamentally change the nature of the country and its values, and who is already jeopardizing America’s standing around the world, remarks that came during an afternoon appearance at an events center here.
Trump, as he departed the Oval Office, told reporters that he thought Biden was “a loser” and questioned his mental fitness.
“I’d rather run against, I think, Biden than anybody,” he said. “I think he’s the weakest mentally, and I like running against people that are weak mentally. I think Joe is the weakest up here. The other ones have much more energy.”
The hostile exchange underscored the extent to which the two men view themselves as political foils in the 2020 White House race. Biden has largely ignored his Democratic rivals while building his campaign around the urgent need to oust Trump. The president, mindful of polling that shows him trailing Biden in several key states, has targeted him in particular with ridicule.
Biden, who began a three-city swing across the state Tuesday, wasted no time trying to frame the debate, releasing excerpts at 6 a.m. from the remarks he had prepared to deliver at a speech in Davenport in the evening.
The excerpts laced into Trump over a range of policy issues, such as “pursuing a damaging and erratic trade war” and his approach to tariff negotiations, as farmers — including in this heavily agricultural state — have struggled.
Speaking in Ottumwa, Biden said that Trump’s visit to Iowa could be a “clarifying event.”
“Iowa farmers have been crushed by his tariff war with China,” he said.
Trump was scheduled to tour an ethanol plant in Council Bluffs in the late afternoon. Later in the evening, Trump was set to fly Air Force One across the state, appearing in West Des Moines for a state Republican Party fundraising dinner as Biden delivers his speech in Davenport.