Why Biden scaled back in New Hampshire

Why Biden scaled back in New Hampshire

SALEM, N.H. — Joe Biden has said he doesn’t need to win the first presidential primary state in the nation — and he’s campaigning like it.

Biden has been dark on New Hampshire television since the New Year. He has a smaller presence on the ground compared to his rivals, barely takes questions from voters, and he’s trailing in the polls here.

Biden’s New Hampshire media buys, events and overall footprint indicates it’s the early state that’s getting relatively short shrift so he can more effectively contest the other three before Super Tuesday.

The former veep’s campaign stresses he’s not writing off New Hampshire, that he has more major endorsements here than any other candidate and visited last Friday and Saturday. But in recent weeks, Biden has intensified his focus on the two states whose caucuses bookend the Granite State’s Feb. 11 primary — Iowa and Nevada — according to those familiar with the campaign’s strategy.

New Hampshire has always been a tough state for the Democrat. When he was considering a 2016 bid, internal polling showed he would do badly there — in part because he would face neighboring state Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Now Biden faces Sanders and another next-door senator, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.

“The reality is New Hampshire is home court for two top-tier candidates — plus Gov. Patrick — and the last three times a neighboring state candidate has competed in New Hampshire, they won,” said Steve Schale, who heads the pro-Biden super PAC, which does not coordinate with the campaign. “It’s also a very expensive and inefficient state for communicating, given 80% of state is in the Boston media market.”

Schale’s group, on pace to spend $5 million to help Biden in Iowa, doesn’t have current plans to go on television in New Hampshire. But it is more likely to do so in Nevada, where polls have Biden ahead in the Feb. 22 caucuses. Nevada could function as a firebreak to slow Sanders’s momentum if he wins Iowa and New Hampshire.

Biden’s fortress, however, is South Carolina’s Feb. 29 primary, where he leads big because of strong black support. Schale summed it up this way: “Go to Nevada and South Carolina, play Moneyball on Super Tuesday — lean in hard on the delegate map. If Bernie can’t start winning African-American voters, it looks a lot like 2016.”

The scenario outlined by Schale was echoed by a Biden campaign adviser and another consultant familiar with the campaign’s strategy. And Biden has said as much on the campaign trail.

Asked Sunday by a local reporter if he needed to win New Hampshire to secure the nomination, Biden flatly said “no,” before quickly adding, “I think I can win New Hampshire. I will win New Hampshire.”

“I think you’ve got to look at the first four [voting states] all at once, both the two caucuses and as well as the two primaries,” he said. “And I think who comes out of South Carolina at the end of the four is going to be … in real contention to get the nomination.”

Sanders’s campaign, however, says Biden’s team is discounting the effect of Sanders picking up momentum if he starts winning early.

“If Biden comes in second in Iowa and second in New Hampshire, and it’s us against him, then he’s still viable,” a Sanders campaign adviser said. “But if he’s third or fourth in Iowa and third or fourth in New Hampshire, no one has ever, ever won the nomination coming out that weak in both those states. And then we go into Nevada and win the first three [early states]. Then what’s his argument? Sure, he’ll win South Carolina. But it’s the Saturday before Super Tuesday so it doesn’t impact things as much. Then you’ll see how weak he is. And he has no money.”

Biden’s campaign has, relative to the other top-tier candidates, struggled with fundraising. Campaign advisers say the campaign has to make tough choices about where to deploy limited resources and constantly assesses where to spend and how much — suggesting he could shift gears to focus more on New Hampshire going forward.

Asked about the Sanders campaign’s view of the race, a Biden campaign adviser noted that polling averages indicate a nearly tied Iowa race between them and said that “overconfidence is the death of presidential campaigns.”

To Biden’s campaign, the race in Iowa is far closer than the Sanders’ campaign admits. And, though Sanders is leading in New Hampshire, they see the Vermont senator doing far worse against Biden in a state where the neighboring senator was once expected to post a blowout.

“Despite the fact that there are two neighboring state senators who should be running away with the New Hampshire primary, Joe Biden has received almost every single major New Hampshire endorsement and is regularly polling within the top three,” Biden’s New Hampshire spokeswoman, Meira Bernstein, said, noting that Biden had just visited the state “barely a week before the Iowa caucuses” in a sign of the state’s importance.

But that trip left some voters, accustomed to large amounts of retail politicking, wanting more. In a state where citizens expect town halls and the opportunity to pepper presidential candidates with questions, Biden has broken with tradition by not engaging in much of a back-and-forth with citizens. His campaign says voters are free to talk to him in the rope line after events, where he takes selfies and questions and makes small talk in equal measure with often-appreciative voters.

Biden’s silence in paid media has been more conspicuous. When it comes to television ads, a campaign puts its money where its mouth is — and Biden was silent for the first four weeks of the year on New Hampshire television. Only on Monday did the campaign start buying ad time, putting down $105,000 this week, another $90,000 the following week and $15,000 more for the week of the primary, according to Advertising Analytics, an ad tracking firm.

The Biden campaign has spent and reserved more ad time in the other early states: $1.8 million in Iowa, $667,000 in Nevada and $1 million in South Carolina. Some of that South Carolina money, a campaign adviser said, could be shifted to New Hampshire if Biden remains dominant in the former and if more money could help in the latter.

In comparison to Biden, Sanders has spent and reserved $2.1 million in TV ad time in New Hampshire. Warren’s spend is $1.5 million from Jan. 1 through the present. The other top tier candidate in the state, Pete Buttigieg, has spent about $1.8 million in ad money — in addition to $600,000 from the VoteVets political committee on his behalf since Dec. 31.

Relative to his and his opponents’ travel to early states, Biden has spent proportionately less time in New Hampshire as well.

According to a candidate tracker for New Hampshire’s NBC affiliate, Biden has had 35 events in the state, far below Warren, who has had 60 events. Sanders has had 65 events, and Buttigieg 70.

In Iowa, however, Biden has held 102 events, which is more than Warren but less than both Sanders and Buttigieg, according to the Des Moines Register’s candidate tracker for Iowa.

All the top-tier candidates have visited Nevada less often than the other two early states. But the number of trips dividing them has been far smaller, with Biden going eight times, Buttigieg nine and Warren and Sanders 10 times each, according to the Nevada Independent’s candidate tracker.

Biden’s campaign presence on the ground in New Hampshire is also relatively small compared to his opponents. He has 55 staffers in New Hampshire, about half the size of other front-runners in the race. The campaign recently began hiring paid field organizers who, for $15 an hour, would bolster efforts to knock on doors and call voters.

Local political observers noted that the location where they are hiring is unusual, and could be a sign of lackluster enthusiasm — Nashua is the state’s second-largest city and a Democratic stronghold with a history of strong activism where volunteers should be coming out in droves. While Biden’s campaign notes that the Sanders campaign has also advertised for paid staff, neutral observers in the state say Sanders’s grassroots army is formidable compared to Biden’s.

The energy level was low on Sunday when former Secretary of State John Kerry held a Biden event in the state’s biggest city, Manchester. Kerry won the city when he carried New Hampshire in the 2004 Democratic presidential primary but only two dozen people showed up, giving the former secretary of state a polite golf clap that lasted about four seconds following his 20-minute speech. One attendee, who said he was not yet a Biden supporter, joked afterward that he had just come for the free coffee.

Even some of Biden’s biggest local backers admit he isn’t their first choice. Instead, they are looking ahead at South Carolina to see who has both the best chance of winning the nomination and beating President Donald Trump.

Just before endorsing Biden earlier this month, Bill Shaheen, a state party official who is married to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, lamented that Michael Bennet wasn’t doing better in the polls.

“I’m very strongly Michael Bennet — there’s a part of me that believes he’s the person that America should choose,” Shaheen said in an interview at a Bennet event. “But I also have to rule with my head, not my heart. You know, Bennet’s got my heart.”

But two weeks later, Shaheen introduced Biden in front of an audience of more than 200 people packed inside the gymnasium of a local elementary school, where he railed against President Trump and GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell.

“The best chance we have of getting rid of McConnell is Joe Biden,” he yelled into the microphone as the audience cheered. “I can’t tell you how many independents and Republicans have approached me and said, ‘Please give me somebody to vote for. Please give me somebody to vote for.’ And that is Joe Biden.”

Published at Tue, 28 Jan 2020 10:02:23 +0000

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