After Iowa Stumble, Biden Goes Heart-First In Final N.H Push

Feb 9, 2020

 

Joe Biden speaking at the Rex Theatre in Manchester on Saturday.
Credit Josh Rogers/NHPR

Joe Biden began his final weekend of campaigning in New Hampshire, during a Friday night debate, downplaying the chance of a good result on Primary Day.

“I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here,"  Biden said.

But another bad result would cast real doubt on a core assumption of Biden's campaign: that he's the Democrat best equipped to appeal to a broad swath of the party. 

 

The morning after Biden offered that self-assessment,  his campaign mustered no more than a dozen canvassers to hit the streets of Manchester on his behalf.

Canvassers got in a bit of training beforehand. They also got a brief pep talk from a guy who could claim to know what it takes to win a primary: former Secretary of State John Kerry.

"Anything can happen in New Hampshire; remind people of that," said Kerry, who won the 2004 New Hampshire Democratic Primary. "Remind them we need someone who can stand up on the stage with Donald Trump, toe to toe, who has credibility to take him on." 

 

Former Secretary of State John Kerry addressing Joe Biden volunteers in Manchester
Credit josh rogers/nhpr

When Biden himself took the stage later that morning, a few blocks away at the Rex Theatre, he did go after Trump, as he does in every speech.  But Biden also emphasized how personal losses have raised the stakes of this election for him.

“I’ve lost a lot in my lifetime, as many of you have," Biden said. "A car accident took away my wife and daughter. I lost my son Beau, like many of you have done. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to lose my country too.”

That pitch – at least in this room – appeared to go over well. Millie Lafontaine, a retired doctor in the audience, said she’s yet to choose between Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar or Biden.

“I’ve been concerned the last few weeks that there are cracks in the veneer that are not good, but I felt good after today," Lafontaine said. "And I’m really trying to be strategic, and I still don’t know what that means still.”

But while undecided voters, like Lafontaine, work to sort their strategy for choosing which candidate to back, Biden’s approach to wooing such voters is taking focus. In addition to foregrounding losses he’s endured in his own life, Biden is playing up his capacity to witness losses endured by others.

At a state Democratic Party dinner Saturday night, Biden told a story of seeing a mother and child at a Manchester food pantry.

“And you could see tears coming down her eyes as she picked up bread,” Biden told the crowd of thousands at the SNHU Arena. “And the men who came along, unable to life their heads up and look. 'My God,' I thought to myself. 'This is the United States of America. How can that be happening in the United States of America?' ”

Biden’s heart-first approach may amount to a Hail Mary effort to stay relevant in the remaining hours before Primary Day. If doesn’t work, Biden’s list of losses, in this case political, will soon be a bit longer.