GILFORD, N.H. – Joe Biden has frequently cited his electability over President Donald Trump as a chief selling point of his campaign. But on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, the former vice president is battling for his political future in a state that has a history of determining who the nominee will be.
Facing a risk of finishing in fourth of fifth place in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, Biden told a couple of hundred of voters Monday: “Excuse my language, but I’ll be damned if I stand by and watch us lose this country to Donald Trump a second time.
“Let’s get up and take back this country and take it back now,” he said, striking a fighting tone inside a basement church to a group of mostly senior voters and retirees in a rural part of the state near Lake Winnipesaukee, north of Concord.
Biden came to the Granite State after a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa Democratic caucuses last week. Even he conceded he won’t be in the winner’s circle when the Granite State finishes counting ballots in its first-in-the-nation primary.
“It’s a long race,” he said during Friday’s debate in Manchester. “I took a hit in Iowa, and I’ll probably take a hit here.”
Monday, a Quinnipiac University national poll heaped on more bad news: His support nationally among Democratic voters and independent voters who lean Democratic plummeted from 26% to 17% over the past two weeks.
He’s second behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (25%) and only slightly ahead of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (15%), who’s eating into the former vice president’s centrist base thanks to millions of dollars spent on television ads blanketing the country.
Biden’s electability also appears to be in question. In the same poll two weeks ago, 44% said Biden had the best chance of winning against Trump, far ahead of his rivals. Biden still leads with 27% in the latest poll, but Sanders (24%) and Bloomberg (17%) are close behind.
“Clearly, Biden’s fourth place finish in Iowa has hurt the perception of what was his biggest strength – electability,” Quinnipiac University Poll analyst Tim Malloy said.
Biden has been sliding in New Hampshire polling, surpassed by two other center-left candidates, first former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and more recently Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Sanders remains the front-runner in New Hampshire.
Boarding his bus to head to an event in Salem on Monday, the former vice president pushed back when asked by a reporter what his campaign needs to do differently.
“I don’t have to do anything differently,” he said, shortly before the latest Quinnipiac poll came out. “This is just getting started. If you notice, I’m still leading all the national polls. Get real.”
Biden’s campaign gatherings in New Hampshire have been smaller and more subdued than the overflow rallies of the surging Buttigieg and the concert-style Sanders appearances.
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said there’s a “good chance” Biden will finish as low as fifth behind Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Warren, who hails from a neighboring state, is likely to do a little better than Biden but probably won’t finish in the top two, based on recent polling.
Since 1972, no Democratic candidate finishing lower than second in the New Hampshire primary has gone on to win the nomination.
“It’s been a no-good, very bad, miserable week for Joe Biden,” Scala said. “Front-runners can lose. They can be set back. But they shouldn’t be embarrassed.”
Biden’s supporters said the race will turn to his favor once the campaign turns to states with large minority populations such as South Carolina.
Klobuchar enjoyed a post-debate bounce in New Hampshire and sailed into third place, according to two polls released a day before Tuesday’s primary.
A Boston Globe/WBZ-TV/Suffolk University poll found Klobuchar is the choice of 14% of likely primary voters behind Sanders (27%) and Buttigieg (19%). Sanders’ 8-point lead over Buttigieg reflected a shift from Friday, when the poll found the former mayor slightly ahead of the senator from Vermont. Biden and Warren were tied for fourth in the poll at 12% each.
Polls show a number of voters remain undecided.
One Biden supporter said she wasn’t happy that his campaign released an online video over the weekend that mocked Buttigieg’s experience.
“I have been 100% behind Biden, right up until Saturday,” said Doris MacHaffie, 87, of Gilford. “He had one ad on against Buttigieg, where I thought he was very demeaning of him. It just broke my heart. … It puts him in the same lane with Trump. That’s what we’ve got to stay away from.”
She said she’s still with Biden, touting his experience:
“We’ve been through too much. It isn’t just Band-aids. It’s big bandages that we need,” she said.