MANCHESTER, N.H. – Joe Biden’s fifth-place finish in the New Hampshire Democratic primary Tuesday plunged his campaign further into peril and uncertainty, jeopardizing his fundraising efforts and potentially upending his path to the nomination.
It is a devastating outcome for a former vice president with widespread name recognition, deep relationships across the party and a lengthy roster of endorsements both in New Hampshire and around the country. After his fourth-place finish in Iowa last week, Tuesday’s poor showing threatens to read as another rejection of Biden’s central campaign argument: that he is the strongest candidate to defeat President Donald Trump.
For months, Biden — until recently the leader in national polls — had appeared to be the clear choice of more centrist Democrats who rejected far-reaching proposals like Medicare for All championed by the most progressive candidates in the race. Yet there have also been signs of Biden’s struggles to excite voters and to build a robust campaign organization after entering the race later than many of his rivals.
And Tuesday, Biden, 77, lagged two younger Democrats looking to seize the moderate mantle: former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.
Both Buttigieg and Klobuchar have so far shown little ability to appeal to voters of color, and Biden, who has polled strongly with black voters, is counting on later-voting, more diverse states to revitalize his campaign. But he will need resources to compete aggressively in Nevada, South Carolina and especially in the 15 states and territories that vote early next month on Super Tuesday.
His two straight losses will complicate his fundraising efforts, Democratic operatives warn, at a moment when some Biden donors have also been quietly considering former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York.
“How do you raise the money? How do you convince donors small and large that they should continue to invest in you?” said Leah Daughtry, a veteran party strategist who ran the 2008 and 2016 Democratic National Conventions, sketching out the challenges for the Biden camp as well as for other struggling candidates including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“You’ve got to blow it out of the water in Nevada and South Carolina to convince small and large donors you continue to be worth the investment,” she added. “You need that money because Super Tuesday is three days after South Carolina. You don’t have a lot of time to pivot.”
On Tuesday, Biden did not even stay in New Hampshire for a previously planned primary night event. Instead, he flew to South Carolina, which has a predominantly black electorate in Democratic primaries and will be the first state to reflect the preferences of the voters who have most buoyed his candidacy.
After he arrived, Biden addressed supporters at the New Hampshire event by livestream, where he vowed that the next two contests would go very differently than the first two.
“We’re going on and we’re going to win in Nevada and in South Carolina,” he said.
But there is increasing competition from candidates including Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who won New Hampshire, and Tom Steyer, the hedge fund billionaire who is spending heavily in South Carolina.
In a phone call with reporters Wednesday, several of Biden’s top surrogates stressed that upcoming states would not take their cues from heavily white Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Let’s imagine if the states were in the reverse order,” said Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., a co-chairman of Biden’s campaign. “This whole conversation would be different. So I don’t believe that the momentum here relates and carries forward because we’re in different states, different demographics.”
He also came out swinging at three of Biden’s chief rivals: Sanders, Buttigieg and Bloomberg, respectively.
“When we get to the general election, we cannot afford to take a chance with a self-defined socialist, a mayor of a very small city, a billionaire who all of a sudden is a Democrat,” he said. “When people look at that, in terms of what we have to lose … I think that they will come back to Vice President Biden and we will get a jump start.”