Joe Biden focused his fire on Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, at the weekend as the former vice-president sought to bolster his flagging presidential campaign ahead of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
“Come on man. This guy’s not a Barack Obama,” Mr Biden said in Manchester on Saturday, as Mr Buttigieg continued to surge in the New Hampshire polls following his razor-thin victory over Bernie Sanders in Iowa.
Mr Biden repeated his claim that Mr Buttigieg’s background running a small city of 100,000 was not the kind of experience that qualified a contender to occupy the White House, saying the former mayor was a “risk”.
“I do believe that we’re a party at risk if we nominate someone who has never occupied a higher office than mayor of South Bend, Indiana,” Mr Biden said at a rally in Manchester.
Speaking to a packed high-school gymnasium in Lebanon near Dartmouth College, Mr Buttigieg criticised Mr Biden, saying his own campaign was centred on a new vision for the future and not the “familiar” from the past.
Mr Buttigieg, an Afghan war veteran and the first openly gay major presidential candidate, said the threat from Donald Trump meant Democrats could not afford to pick a “status quo” politician, a reference to the 77-year old former Delaware senator who has been involved in politics for five decades.
“There are so many communities, rural areas, small towns, industrial cities . . . who have felt completely left behind by the ways of Washington and are tired of being reduced to a punch line by Washington politicians,” he said.
Mr Buttigieg, who appeared on all the Sunday morning television news shows in a sign of his momentum, also hit back at Mr Biden over the question of whether he was like Mr Obama — a comparison made by some voters.
“He’s right. I’m not and neither is he, neither is any of us running for president . . . this isn’t 2008 this is 2020. We are in a new moment calling for a different kind of leadership.”
Mr Biden placed a disappointing fourth in Iowa — behind Mr Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — after running a lacklustre campaign that failed to turn out big crowds across the Midwestern state. He is preparing for another loss in New Hampshire, as he continues to fall in polls ahead of the primary on Tuesday.
“I took a hit in Iowa and I’ll probably take a hit here,” Mr Biden said at the Democratic presidential debate on Friday evening, pointing out that Mr Sanders from neighbouring Vermont won the state’s primary in 2016.
Mr Sanders continues to lead the polls in New Hampshire, giving the self-declared “socialist” optimism that he can beat Mr Buttigieg after his loss in the Iowa caucuses, and repeating his comeback from 2016, when he lost to Hillary Clinton in Iowa but won strongly in the New England state.
According to the average of recent polls compiled by Real Clear Politics, Mr Sanders has 26.7 per cent support, followed by Mr Buttigieg on 21.5 per cent, after one recent tracking poll had at one point showing him in the lead. Ms Warren, a Senator from neighbouring Massachusetts, is in third place on 13 per cent, while Mr Biden is languishing in fourth on 12.5 per cent, a little ahead of Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar who has risen in the polls following a widely applauded performance on the presidential debate stage in Manchester on Friday night.
While the candidates campaign ahead of the crucial primary — the second contest of the 2020 presidential race before it moves south to more diverse states such as South Carolina — Mr Buttigieg is capitalising on the momentum he built after running a strong campaign in Iowa that propelled him to an unexpected victory.
Mr Buttigieg won the Iowa caucuses by criss-crossing the Midwestern state at a high tempo, holding town halls in urban, suburban and rural areas where he wooed young and old voters. He was attempting to repeat the same playbook in New Hampshire, holding more rallies in the final stretch of the campaign than any of his rivals with the possible exception of Mr Sanders, who at 78 is the oldest candidate in the race.
His events in New Hampshire, from a town hall at a veterans club near Manchester to his Lebanon rally, have been packed, in some cases leaving people waiting outside in the cold or unable to enter the events. Karen Fox and her husband were unable to enter the hall on Thursday when Mr Buttigieg met with veterans.
“There’s a sense of excitement that carries over from one state to another,” Ms Fox said. Her husband Steve agreed: “It certainly puts a spring in his step, which makes him even more appealing.”
additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington