NASHUA, N.H. ― Gary Matthews drove from his Massachusetts home to volunteer for Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential campaign in New Hampshire on Tuesday as the state conducted its traditional first-in-the-nation primary.
Matthews, a quality assurance manager, took the day off work so he could knock on doors for the former vice president to try to help him win the Granite State vote. He did so for about five hours and hoped to celebrate with the candidate and other campaign volunteers at an election night party in Nashua.
But the 64-year-old from Chelmsford wasn’t aware as his stumping was ending that Biden had already left the state for South Carolina ― the place that he’s hoping will reignite his struggling campaign, in large part to the state’s large Black population.
“My wife calls about 6:30 p.m. and she goes, ‘I don’t think he’s here, he’s in South Carolina,’” Matthews said at the Biden gathering. “I have to admit, I feel a bit abandoned. He should still be here. I know he’s under new pressure, but I am a bit disappointed.”
Biden struggled to gain traction in New Hampshire, acknowledging last Friday at the candidate debate in the state that he didn’t expect to do well in the primary. And as voters headed to the polls Tuesday morning, Biden’s campaign announced that he and his wife, Jill, would be holding an event in Columbia, South Carolina, a few hours later, sending a clear signal that the night wouldn’t go well for him.
With most of the vote counted late Tuesday night, he not only was in fifth place ― far behind the winner, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ― but he was falling well short of the 15% percent threshold needed to earn any national convention delegates from New Hampshire.
The crowd of roughly 100 people at Tuesday night’s event resembled that of many of Biden’s campaign rallies: elderly voters who believe he offers the best chance of beating President Donald Trump in November. Though the alcohol was flowing, it felt like less of a party and more of a gathering of concerned family members who worried about “Uncle Joe” and his campaign going forward.
A pair of attendees stared at a pair of televisions as the results came in, commenting on footage showing the size of the election night party for the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg ― the neophyte in national politics who ran a strong second in the primary.
“It looks like a stadium,” a man said.
The volume was quickly turned down after a CNN commentator observed that Biden had gotten “clobbered” in New Hampshire and last week’s Iowa caucuses.
The Biden supporters and volunteers who mingled in a ballroom at the Radisson Hotel in Nashua on Tuesday night said they were disappointed he didn’t appear in person, but gave him a pass. They also agreed he needed to do well in other states in order to remain viable in the race.
“Biden’s strength is really more in the South and the Rust Belt,” said Lenny Golder, a Massachusetts native who phone-banked for Biden. “Given where he is now, it’s probably better he spends his time in South Carolina.”
Biden appeared with his wife via a brief video from South Carolina during the night, thanking attendees for their support and promising to come back to the Granite State as his party’s nominee.
“I do love New Hampshire, I really mean it,” he assured the crowd nearly 1,000 miles away, calling the race a marathon that he was positioned to do well going into Super Tuesday and beyond.
Moments later, at his campaign event in South Carolina, he declared that the Democratic race had only just started.
“So when you hear all these pundits and experts, cable TV talkers, talk about the race, tell them: It ain’t over, man. We’re just getting started,” he said.
Back in Nashua, Jeff Dumond, 48, said he was “slightly disappointed″ Biden bailed on the party at the last minute.
“I’m like, Oh you’ve gotta be kidding me,” he said, summing up his reaction when he found out. “But I can kind of understand. We’ve gotta put up a tough fight in South Carolina.”
Connie Daniels, 72, insisted she wasn’t deterred by Biden’s departure or by his lackluster performance on Tuesday.
Daniels, who is from Amherst, Massachusetts, conceded, “It doesn’t look too good.” Still, she added, “But I’m going to keep on going.”