Former Vice President Joe Biden’s primary night party in Nashua, New Hampshire missed a key attendee: the candidate himself.
Biden announced his abrupt departure on the morning of the first-in-the-nation primary. Having previously said in Friday’s debate he expected to “take a hit” in New Hampshire, Biden took off Tuesday on a flight to South Carolina before polls closed in the Granite State.
With all precincts reporting, Biden received 8.4 percent of the vote, coming in fifth place. After also underperforming in Iowa last week, this result could present a challenge to the former vice president’s candidacy, which has centered heavily around his electability.
As attendees at his primary party watched the results pour in on television screens in the room, Biden streamed in using live video to thank his supporters in an address that lasted less than three minutes.
Standing beside former second lady Jill Biden against the backdrop of an American flag, Biden recounted specific experiences with several New Hampshire residents on the campaign trail.
“I do love New Hampshire, and I mean it,” Biden said. “Now Jill and I are moving on to Nevada and South Carolina and beyond. And we want you all to know how much we appreciate everything you’ve done, truly, from the bottom of our hearts.”
Standing in for Biden on stage at the Radisson Hotel in Nashua was his sister Valerie Biden Owens, who said she and Biden’s father used to encourage them to focus more on recovery rather than the setback itself.
“Campaigning for my brother Joe is something that I’ve done, I guess, my entire life,” Owens said. “Ever since he won his first election as class president.”
One thing she also learned from her father, Owens said, was that the greatest of all sins is the abuse of power. She said to the room Americans have been having their “hearts ripped out” under the current White House administration.
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch also spoke as a surrogate for Biden. In his address to the audience, Lynch said electability is what voters must prioritize.
“They want somebody who can beat Donald Trump in November,” Lynch said. “And Joe Biden will be able to assemble a coalition of Republicans and Democrats and independents and beat Donald Trump.”
In an interview with The Daily Free Press after his speech, Lynch said endorsing Biden was an easy decision to make, as he has known the candidate for at least 15 years. He said he knew he would vote for Biden as soon as he announced his candidacy.
“I know him well,” Lynch said. “I campaigned with him when he was on the ticket with Barack Obama. We went all the way to New Hampshire together.”
Lynch said one thing people tend to notice once they meet Biden in person is how well he connects with individuals from various backgrounds.
“He’s incredibly affable, gregarious, straightforward, passionate and has a lot of empathy,” Lynch said. “And I hope voters recognize that in terms of this incredible individual.”
New Hampshire State Rep. Denny Ruprecht, who formally endorsed Biden in July last year, served as another surrogate for the candidate. He said if Biden were present in person, voters would notice he has a “very warm, very personable” disposition.
“He talks about how a lot of people will come up to him with their problems,” Ruprecht said. “And I think that’s the kind of president we need, is somebody who people are comfortable sharing their struggles with. I think that speaks to his character.”
Alli Lavigne, 27, traveled to Biden’s Nashua primary party from Avon, Connecticut as part of her mission to listen to all the Democratic nominees before casting her ballot. She said she thinks Biden’s last-minute departure is understandable.
“He knows he’s not going to win it up here,” Lavigne said. “He has a chance to win it down there. I get it. It’s simple math. So, I’m not mad at him at all.”
Nashua native Lois Voisine, 61, saw a Biden campaign bus leave Nashua that afternoon. She said she thinks the decision was a “terrible” course of action.
“While I do understand it from a strategic standpoint, he threw in the towel early,” Voisine said. “And people who haven’t voted yet, people who haven’t gotten out of work yet are probably hearing that.”
Voters in New Hampshire, according to Voisine, tend not to make up their minds until they have done their research and met their candidates.
“They don’t know who they’re voting for until the last minute sometimes,” Voisine said. “And when they hear Joe leaving, I have to feel it impacts their decision.”
Jim McGuire, 72, of Nuangola, Pennsylvania said although he is disappointed not to see the candidate at the event, he supports Biden’s choice to focus on where he holds a stronger voter base.
“Sticking around New Hampshire tonight is not what he needs to do. He needs to be in South Carolina,” McGuire said. “South Carolina is an important state and it’s what’s next hit [after Nevada]. So am I disappointed? Sure. But, you know, get over it. He’s doing what he needs to do.”