CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Joe Biden’s tense confrontation with a voter in Iowa on Thursday was all over cable news Friday morning, with rampant criticism over how the former vice president was quick to challenge an elderly man to a push-up contest or an IQ test after he'd questioned Biden about his age and his son Hunter.
Biden’s fans in Iowa say they saw the conflict and mostly liked the way he'd handled it.
“I was glad to see him confront the lies yesterday in New Hampton. I was glad to see Nancy Pelosi stand up to the guy asking about hating Trump. It’s way past time for the Democrats to stand up and call out the bull, or as Joe says, the malarkey,” said supporter Randy Hahn, 68, at Biden's event on Friday morning in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
But, Hahn said, “He needs to be a little bit more tactful. He needs to have his answer there. It’s just a smear campaign.”
One voter, Terry Lessmeier, said he thought Biden's behavior was "kind of endearing."
"He shouldn’t have called him a damn liar, but everything else he said was exactly right," Lessmeier said. He added that he thought Biden "can lose that push-up thing."
Biden seemed to agree in quick comments to reporters after the Friday event: “I probably shouldn’t have challenged him to push-ups.”
About a dozen voters at the event who said they have either firmly or nearly decided to vote for Biden told BuzzFeed News they approved of how the former vice president responded to the criticisms, which included the man saying that Biden was too old to be president and that he was concerned about what he had heard about Joe's and Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine.
The allegation that Joe Biden had acted improperly in Ukraine is being forcefully pushed by President Donald Trump and his allies, and it is now at the heart of the impeachment investigation. There is no evidence to show that it is true.
The event Friday was intended as a celebratory rollout of former secretary of state John Kerry’s endorsement for Biden; but even before it began, voters were quick to bring up Thursday’s episode.
Nancy Oehlert, 52, said that while she approved of how Biden handled the confrontation, she too thought Biden needs to come up with a more measured response to questions about his son if he’s going to take Trump on in the general election. At one point in the exchange, Biden called the man, who would not give his name to reporters, a “damn liar.” Later on, he appeared to refer to him as “fat,” something Biden later disputed saying.
“I think he did react emotionally to that," Oehlert said, "and he’s going to get that question a lot. He has to learn not to react as much, or Trump is going to jump all over it."
Charles Menge, 55, said he thought Biden handled the moment well, and for him it highlighted that his age is not a concern.
“I was going to go up to a few people and see where the line is for the push-up contest. I am pretty certain that even though Joe and John Kerry have 20 years on me they could probably beat me in a push-up contest,” Menge said.
Some said they thought the press had blown the episode, and Biden’s response, out of proportion.
“I thought he really handled it pretty well. I’ve got to say, I think the media, when it was a news opener, kind of made it sound worse than it was. But I think he handled it well,” said Anne Mohnsen, 62, of Cedar Rapids.
“I think you can’t criticize him for this one soundbite; you don’t know what happened before or after,” said Linda Fritts, 66, who said she’s especially sensitive to ageism because she’s part of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate crisis movement.
John Myer, 70, said: "I think [Biden] was alright. Nothing that Trump hasn't done."
Others who are less decided about Biden’s candidacy were not so sure about his reaction to being challenged about his age and his son’s work.
“I think he was a little bit too brisk with him. He grizzled too much. He needed to be a little bit less judgmental on that gentleman. He flew off the handle a little too quickly on him,” said Meg Oberrenter, 66, who hasn’t decided on a candidate for 2020 yet. “That’s not going to stand well with most of the public.”