President Donald Trump branded his leading Democratic opponent Joe Biden a "dummy" Tuesday as they gave duelling speeches in the 2020 battleground state of Iowa.
Leaving the White House for the campaign trip, Trump unloaded on Biden, a longtime member of Congress and former vice president under Barack Obama, calling him "weak mentally."
Biden, who arrived in Iowa slightly earlier, used a speech to portray Trump as "an existential threat to America."
According to Biden, 76, his presence in the midwestern state on the same day as Trump, 72, was a coincidence. But his speech amounted to a point-blank broadside aimed at sinking the president's man-of-the-people image.
Far from championing American blue collar workers and farmers, as he repeatedly claims, Trump has made them "pawns" in tariff wars with countries ranging from rival China to close trading ally Mexico, Biden said.
"He thinks he's being tough. Well, it's easy to be tough when someone else is feeling the pain," Biden said of Trump.
"Trump may think Wall Street and the super rich built this country. They didn't... The middle class built this country. The unions built the middle class," Biden said.
VOLLEY OF ZINGERS
Trump, a real estate developer who has always burnished his image as a high-living tycoon, relies heavily on blue collar voters buying into his nationalist slogan of "America First."
During his trip to Iowa, the president visited an ethanol plant to tout his backing for the biofuel supplied by Iowa's politically important farmers. Later, he was addressing a Republican party dinner.
"Under my administration we will always protect and defend our great American patriot farmer," he said in a speech at the factory that also saw him veer off into insults against "sleepy Joe" Biden.
Even before hitting the road, Trump delivered a volley of zingers at his rival.
Mocking his past failed presidential runs, Trump called Biden a "loser" and appeared to feed a conspiracy theory spread in rightwing circles that the former vice president is in poor health.
"He looks different than he used to, he acts different than he used to, he is even slower than he used to be," Trump said.
According to Trump, Biden and the nearly two dozen other Democrats vying for their party's nomination to seek the presidency next year, are the ones whose left-leaning economic and social policies are out of touch with ordinary Americans.
And far from regretting his bruising trade war strategy, the president is on something of a high after Mexico said it was agreeing to his demand for more action against migrants flocking to the United States in order to avoid threatened tariffs.
Celebrating the deal -- although questions have been raised over how much of it recycles measures already agreed to months ago -- Trump said his bigger tariffs war with China would be equally successful.
"Right now, China wants to make a deal very badly. It's me right now that is holding up the deal. And we are going to either do a great deal with China, or we are not doing a deal at all," he said.
"China ate our country alive during Obama and Biden."
Trump officially kicks off his re-election campaign next week at a Florida rally.
In reality, he has never stopped campaigning since he entered the White House after a shock win over the widely predicted winner of the 2016 race, Hillary Clinton.
Backed by the incumbency and a booming economy, Trump should be a heavy favourite in 2020. But his presidency has so polarised the country and energised opponents that previous electoral patterns could be upended.
Biden, meanwhile, holds a strong lead in the Democratic nomination contest, but that is partly due to overwhelming name recognition -- an advantage that Biden, will steadily erode.
He is also struggling to maintain his centrist platform when the most active section of the Democratic Party veers strongly to the left, boosting the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
The latest poll by Quinnipiac University released Tuesday had Biden up 53 to 40 percent against Trump nationally, though the numbers likely mean little so far ahead of election day.
An issue facing both Trump and Biden is their age. Trump revels in boasting about his energy.
"I am a young, vibrant man," he said in April, baiting the slightly older Biden.
But Democratic candidates in their 40s and 50s -- and even 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg -- could yet seize the momentum and make their youth an issue in a country where many Democrats yearn for radical change.