A core argument of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is that he's the most electable Democrat in the field. As Primary Day nears, Biden’s campaign is working to target the sorts of voters — older, moderate Democrats and independents — that he’ll need to fare well in New Hampshire and beyond.
You could hear it in Biden's recent campaign stop in Claremont, where he was quick to claim affinity with the former mill city that voted Democratic for decades before backing Donald Trump in the 2016 election.
"With the history of Claremont, I could be in Scranton, or I could be in Claymont, Delaware, where I grew up," Biden told the crowd. "We used to have viable, viable industries.”
The former vice president was also quick to urge the crowd to boil down their assessment of the Democrats running for president to a single question: which one is most likely to help the party win back not just the Oval Office, but also the control of the U.S. Senate?
“We have to be able to win," he said. "We have to be able to win in North Carolina; we have to be able to win Georgia's Senate seat, in Arizona, not just my home state of Pennsylvania and others. We'll win those, but the question you’ve got to ask yourself is who can best help?”
In New Hampshire, Biden is getting help - from a local Democrat whose politics, like Biden's, were driven by a desire to appeal to the broad middle of the electorate: former Gov. John Lynch.
“Well, obviously having been governor for four terms, I know a lot of people in New Hampshire, and have worked with people all over the state," Lynch said while preparing for a day of campaigning for Biden Monday.
Since stepping down as governor in 2013, Lynch has mostly avoided electoral politics. But for the next week he’ll be touring New Hampshire in full campaign mode for Biden. Lynch hit Concord’s Windmill restaurant on his behalf yesterday, and pushed Biden with the same sort of argument he used in his own campaigns more than a decade ago.
"I think he can bring and develop a coalition of Democrats and independents and Republicans who are very upset at this administration," Lynch told Concord retiree Dan Day, who was eating his lunch at the restaurant.
Day agreed, and said he likes Biden's chances to defeat Trump in November. But said he's worried when he sees Biden getting "rattled" in TV appearances.
"He tends to think faster than he speaks," Day says. "I understand that, but at the same time there are a lot of people that don’t."
Lynch countered with an argument Biden has made himself about his approach to governing: "I also think that you are as only as good as the team that you assemble. And I think he will put together a good team. And that is as true in business as it is in government – you are only as good as the team that you put together."
The idea that governing is a team endeavor, in fact, is a recurring argument from Biden backers. But winning campaigns often depend on having a candidate who can connect or inspire. And it’s not always clear that Biden is succeeding on those counts. When he spoke in Claremont last week, he read his speech, made only intermittent eye contact with the crowd, and took no questions from voters. To Frank Sprague, who was in the audience, it fell short of inspirational
“You know, I just thought it was kind of boilerplate,” Sprague said.
Even so, Sprague said Biden may yet get his vote. And there’s no doubt Biden will get the vote of retired social worker Anne Beattie, who was also in the Claremont crowd.
‘It’s what he believes in his heart," she said.
The 74-year-old Sprague left the Claremont speech with a Biden yard sign in hand, fully convinced he’s the only choice for Democrats committed to winning in November.
“Look at his record," she said. "I can’t imagine one of the other candidates (winning) because not only is it what I believe but who I believe can best represent the party.”
What the Democratic Party represents these days is up for debate. Biden’s candidacy is essentially a bet that Democrats’ success in the age of Trump depends on reaching toward the center of the electorate. And if that’s the case, then deploying someone like John Lynch makes some sense.