HAMPTON, N.H. — Madison Moore warned Joe Biden that the question she was about to ask was going to be a bit mean.

Then the 21-year-old student at Mercer University in Georgia launched into a version of what’s been asked of the former vice president since his disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses:

“How do you explain the performance in Iowa, and why should voters believe that you can win the national election?”

What happened next left her a little shaken, Moore said.

Biden said it was legitimate question, but then turned the spotlight back on her, asking: “Iowa’s a caucus. Have you ever been to a caucus?”

When she indicated yes, he rebuked her “No, you haven’t. You’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier.”

The phrase was an allusion to a line in a John Wayne movie that Biden had used before. But Moore said she was flummoxed at his reaction to what she thought was a legitimate question.

“I read an article that he said [Iowa] was a punch to the gut, and I’m not one to just push on wounds. I’m not trying to humiliate anyone,” she told The Washington Post. “He wasn’t sitting in at the Senate trials for impeachment, so he had Iowa to himself. And then you’ve been a politician for like decades — how are you not way above all the other candidates?”

A chaotic Iowa caucus has left the Democratic Party scrambling for clarity in New Hampshire. (The Washington Post)

In a statement released a few hours later, Moore wrote, “I asked Joe Biden a fair question. His immediate response was to question whether I had ever attended a caucus. In my nervousness in the presence of the former Vice President, I nodded yes.”

Moore has not been to a caucus, she said. But she also accused Biden of insulting her, writing “in reality, it is totally irrelevant whether I’ve been to a caucus or not. Joe Biden has been performing incredibly poorly in this race. His inability to answer a simple question from a nobody college student like me only exacerbates that reality.”

As Biden finished answering the question, he conceded that it was a legitimate question for voters to ask.

“It’s not a mean question,” he said. “It’s an honest question.”