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Ground Game

Why Joe Biden could skip N.H. if he runs for president

Joe Biden spoke during an October 2007 campaign appearance in Henniker, N.H. If Biden runs for president in 2016, he may skip the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.Cheryl Senter/Associated Press/File

Amid speculation surrounding Vice President Joe Biden’s moves toward a presidential bid in 2016, Democrats have raised two potential strategies for such a run.

The first: Biden, 72, could run with the promise to serve only a single term. The second: He could skip the first two nominating contests, in Iowa and New Hampshire, beginning his third presidential campaign in South Carolina instead.

Whether he should run as a single-term president is intriguing, but it is also a purely political decision — perhaps with no right answer. But the second issue, whether he could skip Iowa and New Hampshire, is a logistical question worth exploring.


The rationale for Biden to skip Iowa and New Hampshire is this: He would enter the race too late to compete there. Ignoring those states, which allot their delegates proportionally, would mean losing out on a few dozen delegates out of the thousands he would need to win the nomination. If he began his bid in South Carolina, Biden would save millions of dollars and have a chance to build an organization to compete with the presumed front-runner, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.

There’s another reason why South Carolina would be Biden’s best opportunity. His top Democratic rivals have spent significantly less time and money there compared to Iowa and New Hampshire. Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont combined have spent just nine days in South Carolina this presidential cycle — compared to 28 days in New Hampshire. What’s more, Clinton’s campaign has been airing television advertisements in Iowa and New Hampshire for a month.

Democratic strategists say there are two things Biden must consider in this decision: organization and momentum.

On the first point, Steve Schale, a senior adviser to the Draft Biden effort who ran Florida for Barack Obama in 2008, said there is still time for Biden to organize everywhere.


“You can sense the urgency in calls I have with people who want him to run,” said Schale. “His biggest challenge is organization, and that is why there is talk about him skipping the first two states. But I think that while it is getting late, he can pull it off.”

In South Carolina, Biden has deep roots and would have a much easier time putting together an organization. It is his family’s preferred vacation spot; he visited Kiawah Island this month when he started publicly considering a bid. In 2003, he gave the eulogy at the funeral for former senator Strom Thurmond, who represented the state for nearly five decades in Congress.

What’s more, Biden’s friend, Dick Harpootlian, a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, is ready and willing to back the vice president. Harpootlian sometimes calls Biden the state’s third US senator and, most recently, he donated funds to a draft campaign for the vice president.

But other Biden boosters, who argue momentum is more important for Biden than building an organization, disagree that a South Carolina-or-bust strategy would work for vice president.

Former Iowa Democratic Party chairman Scott Brennan, who supported Biden in the past but is not backing a candidate yet in 2016, said that skipping the first two contests would be a mistake. Brennan said bypassing the first two states has failed presidential candidates in the past. He cited as an example former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, who wanted to begin his campaign in the Florida primary in the 2008 race.


“The reason that this doesn’t work is momentum,” said Brennan. “One candidate could win Iowa and New Hampshire, and that is really tough to beat in South Carolina.”

In 2000, Senator John McCain of Arizona skipped Iowa and began the Republican campaign against George W. Bush in New Hampshire. While McCain won New Hampshire, Bush won Iowa and the nomination.

On the ground in Iowa, Brennan said there’s still room for Biden to build a campaign.

“It is not too late, but it is getting close,” Brennan said. “The other candidates have locked up some of the best staff.”

Indeed Clinton already has 11 offices in Iowa and 8 in New Hampshire. There are more than 100 paid staffers on the ground in Iowa working for Sanders or Clinton.

If he ran, Biden would be forced to hire leftover staff not already working for his rivals. And his former top staff may be unavailable.

Biden’s Iowa state director in 2008, Danny O’Brien, is now a lobbyist for General Electric. And his New Hampshire chairman, former state representative Jim Ryan, went to prison for theft, forgery, and issuing bad checks.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell, or click here to subscribe to his daily e-mail update on the 2016 campaign.