While Biden's Electability Is An Advantage In N.H., Voter Enthusiasm Remains A Challenge

Jan 9, 2020

Joe Biden speaking at Dartmouth College in Hanover in 2019.
Credit Jason Moon / NHPR

A recent poll from CBS news finds that voters in New Hampshire see former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democrat most likely to defeat President Trump in 2020. But he's also the Democrat who generates the lowest level of excitement among supporters.

Voters still considering Biden appear to be navigating that apparent contradiction in the final weeks of the primary race.

If Joe Biden’s campaign can be boiled down to a single idea, a return to normal is probably it.

“We have to restore the essence of who we are. We’ve led the world by the power of our example, and if we lose it damages our security...what we stand for,” he said at a recent campaign stop in Derry. 

Given his resume - 40 years on the national stage, and 8 years as vice president - and the rupture Democrats felt with the election of President Trump, a "turn back the clock" message might be inevitable. And while it carries a risk of seeming backwards-looking, for voters inclined to back him, like Londonderry special ed teacher Jennifer Bernard, it’s reassuring.

Few candidates ever enjoy unconditional support. But talk to people at Biden events and the speed with which they can toggle from praise to concern can be jarring.

"He’s not so left, he’s not so right, and I think he’s got a real caring heart, and I think he can help heal the frustrations and the anger that’s been going on in the country." 

For Democrats who haven’t committed but are still considering candidates, Biden’s familiarity is often a plus.

Liz Mellar lives in New London and likes several candidates, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar among them. She says Biden isn’t enthralling, but his familiarity is comforting.

“When he came to Colby-Sawyer he was very somber, he was very serious, and I think he would be a nice grandfather, like to bring the country together, maybe," she says. "And maybe he would pick Amy for vice president, which would be a good thing.”

Few candidates ever enjoy unconditional support. But talk to people at Biden events and the speed with which they can toggle from praise to concern can be jarring.

Tim Blanchard, a retired engineer, was in the crowd when Biden spoke in Derry.

“I think Joe’s basically a real good guy. But I’m concerned, that’s one of the reasons that I’m here. I’m concerned that, mental acuity is a big deal for me, and if Joe doesn’t have the mental acuity to do the job then Joe is not the right guy.”

This issue, which can encompass both Biden’s age and his propensity for verbal miscues, is one the candidate has taken to addressing head on.

“I think it’s legitimate to look at all of us and say, 'Do you have the energy?' And you can see, you can make a judgement. And if you think I do, I’m fine. If you think I don’t, don’t. But my problem is, I probably have too much energy. Sometimes that gets me into trouble.”

Biden didn't get into any trouble on that day, a welcome outcome for his supporters.

And to hear Jennifer Bernard tell it, a subdued Biden may be made for this political moment.

“I think being exciting might help draw attention to the campaign," she says, "but I think having a dynamo rally isn’t necessarily what the people really need.”

It's not a slogan destined for a bumper sticker. But for a candidate with no need to introduce himself, it could end up being good enough.