NEW LONDON, N.H. — Former vice president Joe Biden, in a presentation both wonky and meandering, hammered home three overarching ideas at a town hall event Saturday afternoon:
He has far more foreign policy experience than his rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination.
His health care plan is far less expensive than the Medicare for All proposals favored by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
And he served side by side with President Barack Obama for eight years — a point he returned to again and again, in response to questions about everything from domestic violence to global warming.
“Folks, we’ve got a lot of work to do. The next president of the United States, as a matter of fact, is going to inherit a divided nation and a world in disarray, and there’s going to be no time for on-the-job training — for real,” he said.
Biden’s visit to New London, a picture-postcard community of just 4,400 people not far from Mount Sunapee, was part of a two-day swing through New Hampshire that included a traditional pilgrimage Friday to the secretary of state’s office in Concord to officially get his name on the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary ballot.
It came at a critical time for his campaign. Just last week former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg — a moderate like the former vice president — indicated he is considering jumping into the Democratic race, a move that would complicate matters for Biden, potentially drawing away supporters and, in the process, helping a rival like Warren.
Biden, 76, was the presumptive frontrunner when he entered the race but has seen his challengers surpass him in early-state polls and in fund-raising.
Nonetheless, his Saturday event drew a larger-than-expected crowd that had organizers scrambling to add extra chairs and people filling standing-room space in a hall at Colby-Sawyer College.
Biden grew especially animated talking about what he’d look for in a vice president — even as he acknowledged it might sound presumptuous since he hasn’t yet won the nomination.
“You have to have someone who is simpatico with you: a man, a woman, a person of color — someone who is simpatico,” he said, later adding that he would prefer a woman.
Biden said he would want someone who agreed with him philosophically, even if that person didn’t always agree on tactics — and offered an example from his own tenure as vice president.
“Barack and I used to, as the president will tell you, argue like the devil. But we did it in private,” he said.
Biden recalled that he wanted Obama to use an executive order to simply end the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for gay servicepeople. But the president, he acknowledged, was “smarter.” Obama decided instead to ask the military to study the issue and as a result gathered military support. Because of that, Biden argued, military culture changed — making it difficult for President Trump to reverse the shift.
The sharpest question Biden received Saturday came from a man who said he’d first met Biden 30 or 35 years ago (and marveled that the candidate didn’t immediately recognize him). What, he asked, would Biden do today if faced with the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill controversy of 1991?
Biden, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time, has faced significant criticism in the years since Thomas’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings over the aggressive questioning Hill faced from the committee about her claims that Thomas had sexually harassed her.
Earlier this year Biden said he took “responsibility” for the episode. On Saturday, he noted that Christine Blasey Ford, too, was treated harshly when she made similar accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
“We’ve got a gigantic cultural problem: how we deal with . . . and how we view women,” he said.
To many of the voters gathered here, Biden represents the Democrats’ best chance to pick off independent and Republican voters needed to win the general election.
It was not a crowd necessarily excited about the Green New Deal or a tax on billionaires, proposals offered by more liberal candidates that have inspired Democratic voters elsewhere. What these voters said they want most: someone who can beat Trump.
“A middle-of-the-road candidate is so important because of The Unmentionable,” said Carolyn Reynolds of New London, pointedly avoiding the president’s name. She has been impressed, she said, by Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and is interested in New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s campaign, too.
Her friend Linda Barnes of Salisbury, N.H., is all in for Biden, volunteering for his campaign. Sanders and Warren, she noted, are “too far left.” Biden, she said, has a wealth of experience, especially in foreign policy, and a kind persona.
“I’m sorry he’s as old as he is,” Barnes said, “but if you want the meatloaf, you’ve gotta take the mashed potatoes.”
Felice Belman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.