And remember, Biden is not the only one licking his wounds. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who led once in Iowa and whose ground organization seemed dominating, came in third. She lacks Biden’s strong prospects in South Carolina, so New Hampshire becomes practically a do-or-die state for her.
The reports of impending doom for Biden might be influenced just a tad by a press corps that has been predicting his political demise for nearly a year. However, whether you think Biden’s position is dire or not, there are plenty of reasons to think he still has a path to the nomination.
For one thing, New Hampshire voters famously do not take their lead from Iowa. (The New York Times points out, “Hillary Clinton won New Hampshire after losing Iowa in 2008, then did the exact opposite in 2016.”)
Second, both voters and the media love a “comeback” narrative, which Biden plainly embraced on Wednesday. Referring to the media accounts predicting his exit, Biden declared: "Well, I got news for them. I’m not going anywhere. And I’m counting on New Hampshire. We’re going to come back.” For Biden, playing the scrappy underdog comes naturally.
Third, as Republicans remember all too well from the 2012 vice presidential debate, Biden can be feisty and aggressive when he needs to be. In New Hampshire on Wednesday, Biden ridiculed the notion that a self-described socialist such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is electable. “Every Democrat will have to carry the label Sen. Sanders has chosen for himself,” Biden said. “I don’t criticize him. He calls himself a democratic socialist. Well, we’re already seeing what Donald Trump is going to do with that.” He also needled former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg. “I do believe it’s a risk — to be just straight up with you — for this party to nominate someone who’s never held an office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana,” he said. Biden has a shot in Friday’s debate to swing hard and show some life.
In a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, he stayed on offense, going after Trump for giving the Presidential Medal of Freedom to radio personality Rush Limbaugh. (“I mean, if you read some of the things that Rush has said about people, their backgrounds, their ethnicity, how he speaks to them. I don’t think he speaks, I don’t think he understands the American code of decency and honor.”) He also bashed a favorite Democratic villain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for doing nothing on House bills and neglecting election security.
Finally, every other candidate has problems as well. For Warren, New Hampshire is a must-win state where Sanders has a big advantage. Neither she nor Buttigieg has shown strong support among African Americans. Sanders didn’t bring in a ton of new voters into Iowa and did less well than Buttigieg in luring supporters of nonviable candidates to his camp for the second alignment. (His campaign has done such a good job of attacking his Democratic rivals that it is hardly surprising that the Sanders camp would do poorly in that regard.)
In sum, Biden has it within his power to turn this around. Unless he finishes strong (most likely second), the gloom-and-doom chatter will restart. He can get back in the game by throwing some punches, doing well in the debate and showing heart, as he did at the CNN town hall when he spoke at length about stuttering, which he struggled with as a child. He turned his answer into a monologue on compassion and kindness. Now that’s the Joe Biden who might turn this around.