Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden fled New Hampshire in the middle of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary after forecasts accurately predicted his resounding defeat.
Biden, a former vice president and the longtime frontrunner in the Democratic field, canceled his scheduled appearance at primary night party in Nashua, New Hampshire, and flew to South Carolina. The campaign said it would be throwing a “launch party” in the Southern state.
“We’re going to head to South Carolina tonight,” Biden told reporters as he visited a polling station with voting underway. “And I’m going to Nevada … we’ve got to look at them all.”
“I’m still mildly hopeful here in New Hampshire,” Biden said. “And we’ll see what happens.”
Asked if undecided voters in New Hampshire would not vote for him now that he’s leaving early, Biden said, “No, I don’t think so.”
“The rest of the nation is out there. There’s an awful lot of electoral votes to be had,” Biden said. “And we’re going to see. But I think we’re going to do well in Nevada and South Carolina. And we’ll go from there.”
— Bo Snerdley (@BoSnerdley) February 12, 2020
Exit polls had already shown Biden trailing far behind the Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent, Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat.
Biden takes another hit in New Hampshire
Biden’s campaign has argued that he was disadvantaged by the majority white electorate in the first two early states: New Hampshire and, before that, Iowa, where he turned in a disappointing fourth-place finish in last week’s caucuses.
“I took a hit in Iowa and I’m probably going to take a hit here,” Biden said at the start of Friday night’s Democratic presidential nomination debate.
Buttigieg narrowly beat out Sanders to win Iowa, but both campaigns have asked for a partial recanvass of results.
Citing his strong support among African Americans, Biden has pointed to the Feb. 29 primary in South Carolina, with is large black population, as a potential turning point. But even in the supposed southern stronghold, polls have shown Biden’s lead slipping. As of Wednesday, FiveThirtyEight gave Sanders and self-professed democratic socialist, an edge in the state.
When the New Hampshire results were tallied, Biden had performed even worse than in Iowa, coming in a distant fifth with just 8 percent of the vote.
Sanders had 26 percent of the vote and Buttigieg had 24 percent with more than 91 percent of precincts reporting. Klobuchar had 20 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, had 9 percent.
“This victory here is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump,” Sanders told supporters in Manchester, New Hampshire late Tuesday.
Sanders, whose home state neighbors New Hampshire, won the state easily over rival Hillary Clinton with 60 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful bid for the party’s nomination four years ago.
In a sign of the growing rivalry between Sanders, a 78-year-old leftist, and Buttigieg, a 38-year-old moderate, the senator’s supporters booed and chanted “Wall Street Pete!” when the ex-mayor’s post-primary speech was shown on screens.
Can Buttigieg make history?
Buttigieg, who would be the first openly gay U.S. president if elected, still faces questions about what polls show is his weakness with African-American voters, one of the most loyal and vital Democratic voting blocs.
He also decried the growing polarization of politics and the recent Democratic infighting.
“In this election season, we’ve been told by some that you must either be for revolution or you are for the status quo. But where does that leave the rest of us?” Buttigieg asked supporters in Nashua. “A politics of my way or the highway is a road to re-electing Donald Trump.”
Turnout among New Hampshire Democrats approached the record of 287,000 set in 2008, the year of Barack Obama’s historic candidacy, easing Democrats’ concerns about voter engagement after lower-than-expected turnout in Iowa.
The results also began to thin the field of Democrats seeking the right to take on Trump in the Nov. 3 election, with businessman Andrew Yang and Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, dropping out after the polls closed, and it became clear they would finish well out of the running.
Biden, 77, fared poorly in two previous runs for president before winning election in 2008 as President Barack Obama’s No. 2. He hopes to stay afloat this time until the contests in South Carolina and a series of other Southern states on Super Tuesday on March 3.
“It ain’t over, man. It’s just getting started,” Biden told supporters in South Carolina.
“We just heard from the first two of the 50 states,” he said. “Where I come from, that’s the opening bell, not the closing bell.”
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, will appear on ballots for the first time on Super Tuesday.
More diverse battlegrounds ahead
Up next will be the Feb. 22 caucuses in Nevada, which has a large Latino population.
“Because of you, we are taking this campaign to Nevada,” Klobuchar told supporters in New Hampshire.
Warren, whose state also neighbors New Hampshire, said it would be a long, drawn-out battle for the nomination and the race was far from over. She decried the party’s infighting and called for unity as the contest moves on.
“These tactics might work if you’re willing to burn down the party to be the last man standing,” Warren said in New Hampshire. “We win when we come together.”
The departures of Yang and Bennet left nine Democratic candidates still running.
Yang, 45, had surprised many observers by qualifying for debates and remaining in the contest longer than some veteran politicians.
Bennet, 55, a moderate from Colorado who had stressed improving education for Americans, told supporters it was “fitting” to end his campaign in New Hampshire, where he had campaigned heavily.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)