For our small-but-passionate band of Biden devotees: An AP story on Biden's hopes for placing third in Iowa:

He draws enthusiastic crowds to his events and last week began his first sustained TV ad campaign. He was approved for $857,000 in matching funds this week by the Federal Election Commission, helping to ease the financial pressure on his cash-strapped campaign.

Operatives for rival candidates say privately they've detected substantial pockets of support for Biden in some rural areas and in the ethnic, heavily Catholic industrial towns along the Mississippi River in eastern Iowa. Complicated caucus rules mean those pockets could produce enough delegates for Biden to have an impact.

With polls showing Bill Richardson's support appearing to fade and Chris Dodd still struggling to catch on, Biden's advisers are hoping for a strong fourth-place finish and say they can even envision coming in third. Their outside hope is for Biden somehow to overtake Edwards, who draws much of his support from the same blue-collar and rural voters Biden is trying to woo.

While it sounds like a long-shot scenario — Edwards has a strong organization in Iowa that he began building in his 2004 presidential effort — the Biden team suggests Edwards could stall before caucus night as voters consider which candidate is best prepared to deal with national security issues such as Iran and Iraq.

Long shot is putting it mildly. Maybe, just maybe a more realistic scenario has Biden placing a surprising fourth. Then, if Edwards finishes third, people say he had his shot and bloew it, while Biden can carry on to New Hampshire trying to pick fights with Hillary and Obama. (Not that I'm, like, placing money on this scenario....)  

By the way, I just remembered that in my dispatch last week, I neglected to mention that in that Ankeny sports bar, Biden drew an impressive standing ovation. His people really do love him.

P.S. In the comments to my piece several people marveled at the fact Biden didn't get more attention in this race. I think there are a handful of reasons for that--and this is my analysis, not a justification: One is the media's respect for fundraising. Another is the way the race was framed around Hillary as a quasi-incumbent, and Biden's inability to offer a sharp sexy contrast to that narrative the way Obama (anti-war, fresh start) and Edwards (anti-DC populism) have. Biden may also have killed his candidacy in its cradle with his famously verbose and occasionally eccentric performances during his Judiciary Committee's Supreme Court confirmation hearings. (Remember the Princeton baseball cap?) And finally there were his early gaffes--"clean and articulate," Indian 7-11 owners--which further reinforced the loose-cannon image from those hearings. The result of all these factors was that, despite his substantive virtues, the media simply never took Biden seriously.

--Michael Crowley