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Photo: "Axios on HBO"

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — The Iowans Joe Biden met on an eight-day, 18-county "No Malarkey" bus tour told me they want a nominee who works with Republicans — and they aren't fixated on impeachment or liberal proposals like the Green New Deal.

Why it matters: Their views validate Biden's argument that Democrats nationally aren't as liberal as on Twitter or as AOC — but also foreshadow liabilities for Biden versus others in the moderate lane.

  • Many potential Biden backers also spoke positively about Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.

The Democrats' nominee should be someone who can "win over white working-class people who think that they were left behind, and they think that Donald Trump is doing it for them," said one voter, Janet Abbas.

  • Trump is "not doing it for those people, but they’re still backing him, like, 100%," she said. "I just don’t get it."
  • Karen and Bernard Pratte told Axios that in order to beat Trump and puncture his support with GOP voters, a Democrat should tout their "ability to work with Republicans to get things done."

There’s a danger in reading too much into any candidate's bus tour, because the people who show up are usually supportive of the candidate even if they're not yet committed.

  • Plenty of Iowans do want more liberal proposals. Polls of likely caucus-goers indicate Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are slightly ahead of Biden while Buttigieg leads.
  • But in conversations with roughly two dozen people at Biden's various town halls and events, voters validated his approach that Democrats don’t need to reinvent the wheel — they just need to get the country back to normal.
  • Axios joined for the last leg of the trip, which took us to Cedar Rapids, Decorah, Elkader, and Oelwein.

With those practical-minded voters, Biden's challenge is in convincing them he is better poised than Buttigieg to beat Trump — and to govern.

  • They called Buttigieg "down-to-earth" and were quick to bring up that he, too, is a Midwesterner.
  • To an extent, Biden is also competing with Klobuchar here. They describe her as middle-of-the-road, not someone chasing "pie-in-the-sky ideas." She hasn't taken off nationally in the way that Buttigieg has.
  • They love Biden's experience, that he's "calm," and that he "thinks before he speaks," as one Oelwein man put it.

The one time DC's main event and rural Iowa's concerns overlapped during this bus tour was when a man made unsubstantiated allegations that Biden “sent” his son Hunter to work in Ukraine in order to sell access to President Obama.

  • Biden got visibly angry, calling the man a "damn liar," and it came up often from voters at his events the next day — but most didn't take issue with Biden's response.

The big picture: You can’t talk about the election with Democrats without hearing that their top priority is defeating Trump. Polls consistently show that's a priority that outranks candidates' ideology.

After his last event on Friday — where he ended by passing out pizza to some of his local volunteers and staff in Decorah — Biden talked with a small group of reporters on his bus and touched on compromise and the notion of returning to "normal."

  • "If I win, and Lindsey [Graham] is still there, I promise you we'll be able to work things out," Biden said.
  • When Axios asked whether he thinks the Republican Party will revert to what he knew it to be pre-Trump whenever a new president is elected, Biden said: "Nothing's going to snap back" because "we're in a totally different world."

Instead, he advocated for a more robust and traditional Republican Party:

"The thing I worry about — it's a distant worry but it's a worry — what happens if we win big and the Republicans get clobbered? I'm really worried that no party should have too much power. You need a countervailing force."
— Biden during his "No Malarkey" bus tour

Biden made his electability pitch in winding stump speeches that focused heavily on foreign policy and the argument that Trump is damaging the country's global respect.

  • He argues he won’t be an international embarrassment, could hit the ground running and would restore sanity and decency to the White House.

"I hope you’ll give me a shot," he told voters at an evening event Friday — his biggest of the day — in Decorah. "And if you do, I promise you I’ll never be in a position where you’ll be embarrassed by anything ethically that ever happens."

Go deeper

NASA estimates Tonga volcano exploded with force of 5-6 megatons

A satellite image of Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai volcano on Dec. 24, before the eruption. Photo: Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

NASA scientists estimate the power of Tonga's volcanic eruption over the weekend to have been 5-6 Megatons of TNT equivalent.

Threat level: Saturday's eruption of the Hunga Tonga Hunga Haʻapai volcano and subsequent tsunami killed at least three people. Scientists warn an "ash-seawater cocktail" poses a potentially toxic health threat, and drinking water could be contaminated.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

New York AG alleges "significant evidence" of Trump Organization fraud

Combination images of former President Trump and New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Scott Heins/Getty Images

New York's attorney general filed a motion Tuesday seeking to compel former President Trump and his two elder children to appear for sworn testimony in her office's civil investigation into the Trump Organization's financial dealings.

Why it matters: Attorney General Letitia James revealed new details in the court filing and a statement on her office's investigation into the Trump Organization's business practices, including a preliminary finding alleging the company used "fraudulent and misleading asset valuations to obtain economic benefits."

5 hours ago - Technology

Ex-N.Y. Post digital chief files lawsuit alleging sexual harassment

Richard B. Levine) (Photo by Richard Levine/Corbis via Getty Images

Former New York Post editor Michelle Gotthelf is suing her former employer, its parent company News Corp. and two editors, alleging she was reprimanded after complaining to senior executives that she was sexually harassed by retired N.Y. Post editor-in-chief Col Allan. The N.Y. Post issued a statement denying any wrongdoing.

Why it matters: "I felt that I owed it to myself and I owed it to the news organization and the people who answered to me," Gotthelf, who was a long time editor at the N.Y. Post, told Axios in an interview.