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Joe Biden fights to save his presidential bid in New Hampshire

Former vice president Joe Biden greeted an audience member as he held a rally in the coastal town of Hampton, N.H.Erin Clark / Globe Staff

HAMPTON, N.H. — With the nation’s first primary fast approaching, Joe Biden told the few hundred people gathered at a hotel conference room in this beach town that he wasn’t there to take a dip in the ocean.

“I came for one reason,” the former vice president said. “I need your vote.”

If Biden is going down in New Hampshire, he’s going down fighting.

Joe Biden campaigns in New Hampshire
Joe Biden speaks to supporters at a campaign event in New Hampshire. (Video: Handout, Photo: John Lochner/AP)

After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses and another kind of bracing dip — in New Hampshire polls — Biden’s tried to steady his campaign with fiery attacks on his Democratic rivals, feisty exchanges with reporters, and emotional appeals to voters centered on character, empathy, and his experiences with personal loss.


“How many of you have lost someone close to you?” he asked the audience in Hampton. “This is incredible what we are going through now. This president has not an ounce of empathy in his body.”

The good news for Biden is that by making it to the New Hampshire primary, he’s gotten further this time than in either of his first two presidential campaigns. The bad news is that he might not go much further if he doesn’t perform well in New Hampshire. And the 77-year-old veteran political warrior seemed to sense it even as he’s predicted his campaign is likely to take another hit in Tuesday’s primary.

Joe Biden rallied with a crowd while visiting the coastal town of Hampton, N.H.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders opened his lead over Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., in New Hampshire, to about eight percentage points, with Biden tied for fourth with Senator Elizabeth Warren in Sunday night’s Boston Globe/WBZ-TV/Suffolk University daily tracking poll. A new CNN New Hampshire poll released Sunday found voters no longer think of Biden as the most electable.

Since entering the race last spring, Biden has billed himself as the Democrat most likely to beat President Trump because of his lengthy experience. That argument kept him at the top of the national polls. But his electability case began to crumble in Iowa, when the results of the first actual votes of the 2020 race were tallied.


In a fiery impromptu press conference with reporters on Saturday, he lashed out at Buttigieg, saying he was distorting Biden’s record and strongly objecting to a comparison of the young politician to Barack Obama. On Sunday, Biden doubled down on defending his newly aggressive approach.

“I didn't attack Pete. Pete's been attacking me,” Biden said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “He's been saying that the reason we're in the problem were in now is because of the recent past. That's eight years of Obama and me.”

An audience members wore a Biden sticker while attending a rally.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

Biden went on to reiterate the criticisms of Buttigieg and Sanders that he began leveling on Wednesday and continued at Friday’s debate. Biden called both rivals a risk for Democrats – Sanders because he’s a self-described democratic socialist and Buttigieg because he’s never held higher elective office than mayor of a city of about 100,000 residents.

When Biden hit the campaign trail on Sunday, he toned down his criticism, although still alluded to his attacks, often without mentioning his opponents’ names.

He kept to a lighter schedule compared to the other candidates. His events started late and ran long, with his staff often trying to yank him away as he continued to answer questions from voters or journalists.


In meandering stump speeches and lengthy question-and-answer sessions, he talked about health care, climate change, and the opioid crisis. He shared stories of voters he has met along the trail, including those of a woman whose father had Alzheimer’s disease and of a man who lost his job. He described the scene of people waiting for food at a pantry where he, his wife, Jill, and two grandchildren on Saturday helped pass out loaves of bread.

“Think about this,” he shouted in Hampton. “Think about what’s going on. These are your neighbors.”

“I will end with this, and I really will end with this,” he later said to laughs at a Derry high school, before he blasted Trump’s immigration actions, called for the need to educate Latinos, and warned of the rise of white supremacy for some minutes longer.

He rarely invoked the names of his two top rivals. But Biden also pressed on the issues he has used in recent lines of attack against Sanders and Buttigieg. He emphasized his legislative track record, his relationships with world leaders, and what he called his ability to help other Democratic candidates down the ballot.

One of the reasons he was running, he said, was the same reason for which he was most criticized.

“Because I’ve been around a really long time," Biden said. “Hopefully being around not only gives experience, but a little bit of wisdom.”

Along the way, he fielded questions from voters who felt shaken by the Iowa results. And his fighting spirit even oddly extended to one of those exchanges.


In Hampton, a student at Mercer University in Georgia wanted to know why voters should believe he could win the election after coming in fourth place in the caucuses.

“Iowa’s a caucus. Have you ever been to a caucus?” Biden asked.

“No, you haven’t," he jokingly fired back when she nodded. "You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier.”

His aides said he used the same phase in 2018, saying it came from a John Wayne movie.

Then just as in other remarks throughout the day, Biden returned to his central pitch: Iowa had resulted in a “confusing” result, but a win there did not spell victory for a candidate in Pennsylvania, Michigan, or Florida, places where he still leads in polls.

Biden wasn’t as sharp or as focused as he had been on the debate stage on Friday or in the first speech he gave the next day. But he was soft-spoken and firm as he opened up about the personal struggles that have marked his life, his efforts to overcome childhood stuttering, the death of his son Beau to cancer and the car crash that took the lives of his first wife and daughter in the 1970s.

“I’ve lost a lot in my life, like many of you have," Biden told a packed house at the Rex Theater in Manchester Saturday. "But I’ll be damned if I’m going to stand by and lose my country, too.”