After a poor showing in the Iowa caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden hit the campaign trail in New Hampshire on the offensive, questioning the electability of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, both of whom led Biden in the Iowa results.
With 96% of precincts reporting as of Thursday morning, Biden looks increasingly likely to end up in fourth place in Iowa, behind Sanders, Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), with substantially fewer delegates to his name — results Biden said were a “gut punch” at a Somersworth, New Hampshire, campaign rally.
The prospective loss in Iowa has sharpened Biden’s tone on the campaign trail. He questioned rival Buttigieg’s credentials, and dared the former mayor to directly criticize the Obama administration.
“Is he really saying the Obama-Biden administration was a failure? Pete, just say it out loud,” Biden said at the rally. “I have great respect for Mayor Pete and his service for this nation, but I do believe it’s a risk — to just be straight up with you — for this party to nominate somebody who’s never held office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana. I do believe it’s a risk.”
His campaign reiterated the sentiment on Twitter, responding to a common Buttigieg talking point about the “old failed Washington.”
Buttigieg’s relatively short resume has been easy fodder for rival Democratic presidential campaigns to question his qualifications for office. (Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota went after the former Indiana mayor on the debate stage over it.) But Biden hasn’t notably engaged in the criticism until now, largely shying away attacking his fellow Democratic presidential candidates.
That strategy might be changing. Biden also went after Sanders at the New Hampshire rally, questioning whether Sanders’ self-proclaimed belief in democratic socialism is a risk for the party.
“If Senator Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat in America, up and down the ballot — blue states, red states, purple states, easy districts, competitive ones — every Democrat will have to carry the label Senator Sanders has chosen for himself,” Biden said. “So what do you do about who is going to be at the top of the ticket? Donald Trump is desperate to pin the label ‘socialist, socialist, socialist’ on our party. We cannot let him do that.”
Sanders has long come under scrutiny for identifying as a democratic socialist — which he has more recently defined as a continuation of a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, New Deal kind of politics. The label has certainly become a bogeyman on the right.
Trump repeatedly invoked socialism the State of Union address Tuesday night, saying “socialism destroys nations” and censuring lawmakers who “have endorsed legislation to impose a socialist takeover of our health care system” — a not-so-veiled jab at “Medicare for All,” Sanders’ most central policy proposal to move every American onto a single government-run health care system.
But the label hasn’t hurt Sanders with primary voters yet. He is looking well-positioned to win the popular vote in Iowa, and has widened the lead in New Hampshire. Sanders’ and Buttigieg’s campaigns did not respond for comment.
Biden has long made his electability the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, focusing his campaign speeches more on Trump — and his belief that he is the best positioned to beat him — than any policy platform. Coming in fourth in the first contest, however, isn’t the best look for a candidate making the pitch that they can win elections.