As the 2020 Democrats descend upon New Hampshire, leaving behind the smouldering ruins of an Iowa caucus meltdown sown with confusion, former vice president Joe Biden is returning to a state that has helped end a presidential run of his before — and may very well do so once again.
While the results from Iowa have resulted in protests from candidates like Bernie Sanders and even Pete Buttigieg — who remain neck and neck in the still-incoming results there, both with apparent good reason to complain that the slow release of results has blunted their momentum — the same cannot be said for Mr Biden, who finished fourth with no chance at a last minute come-back.
And so, less than a year after he entered the 2020 race with a campaign video last April casting the race as one between just him and Donald Trump, followed by a massive and picturesque rally in Philadelphia and considerable press attention surrounding his inevitability, the former right hand man to Barack Obama finds himself left in the lurch by the party he has devoted the better part of his life to.
No longer is it just Trump vs Biden. Now it is Biden vs Buttigieg, and Biden vs Sanders, too. And Mr Biden is improbably the underdog, trailing in polls and fundraising, and forced to fight for the life of what would be his final presidential campaign, which he in turn has cast as a fight for the soul of America.
“I can’t sugarcoat it, we took a gut punch in Iowa,” Mr Biden told a New Hampshire crowd this week ahead of the state’s primary on 11 February. “The whole system took a gut punch.”
For his part, Mr Biden has already said he doesn’t need to win the first presidential primary state in the nation. And he hasn’t been slyly making a big play for the state, either.
As Politico reports, Mr Biden’s campaign has spent relatively little in New Hampshire on ad buys, as he has instead focused on the next three states to vote before Super Tuesday next month. He also has a smaller campaign presence, and has barely taken questions from voters during campaign stops in the state.
But his campaign’s emphasis on his strength in states like South Carolina, which is one of those three following New Hampshire, has also come as Mr Biden has received a steady stream of criticism for what reporters see as him being less than available. And, he’s found himself the focus of some bad headlines in which he’s seemed to shout at voters who challenge him (notably, Mr Biden was caught recently pushing a supporter who asked him about oil pipelines).
And it’s on that final point that Mr Biden’s first run for president was, in-part, pilloried. At that time, in 1987, Mr Biden found himself being asked where he went to law school in Claremont, New Hampshire. And then, the then-senator responded on a somewhat Trumpian manner — “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect” — before giving a misleading answer about his academic record that later added to a list of several scandals that ultimately led to his campaign, including allegations that he had plagiarised a speech by the then-British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock.
Now in his third presidential race, and a good deal older, Mr Biden finds himself behind the likes of Mr Buttigieg and Mr Sanders in polls in New Hampshire. He also fell behind senator Elizabeth Warren in Iowa, who received the third most votes.
Those two top candidates are riding into the state victorious, and with a fair amount of positive media at their backs.
New Hampshire is a state known to buck the results in Iowa, though, so perhaps Mr Biden’s hopes of the presidency aren’t dashed just yet. But now he’s punching up, not down.
“If Senator Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat in America up and down the ballot, in blue states, red states, purple states, in easy districts and competitive ones, every Democrat will have to carry the label senator Sanders has chosen for himself,” Mr Biden said in New Hampshire this week, going on the offensive. “He calls him— and I don’t criticise him — he calls himself a democratic socialist. Well, we’re already seeing what Donald Trump is gonna do with that.”
As for Mr Buttigieg, Mr Biden is daring the South Bend mayor to continue to attack him, saying he’ll defend his record if he needs to, and hoping to align himself with Mr Obama even as the insurgent candidate has attempted to do the same: “Is he really saying the Obama-Biden administration was a failure? Pete, just say it out loud.”
With much less money in the bank than Mr Buttigieg or Mr Sanders, Tuesday’s primary results may be the difference between Mr Biden being able to continue that offensive, and the end of his candidacy.