Biden allies spin after disappointing results trickle in from Iowa
Aides and allies to former Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday they were frustrated by the results of the Iowa caucus which showed their candidate in fourth place as results began to come in after a lengthy delay.
Those in Biden’s orbit — from fundraisers to longtime aides — said they worried losing Iowa would set a bad precedent going forward, particularly as Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., competing with Biden for centrist voters, appeared to be winning after the first batch of results emerged.
No one expected Biden would win the state, allies to the former vice president acknowledged.
But as the results came into view, those in Biden World went from feeling hopeful that Biden could still have a strong showing in the Hawkeye State to feeling underwhelmed by the results and his prospects going forward.
As of late afternoon, Buttigieg was in the lead with 28 percent of the state-equivalent delegates, with 62 percent of nearly 1,700 precincts reporting. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was in second with 25 percent of the delegate shares. Biden was a distant fourth with 16 percent, behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 18 percent and just ahead of Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) with 13 percent.
All day Tuesday, Biden aides appeared to soften the blow, on conference calls with donors and other surrogates.
But even Biden’s staunchest supporters were frustrated by the outcome of a fourth-place finish.
“Great guy but he’s a shitty candidate,” one Biden ally said in exasperation. “The campaign lacks energy.”
Another longtime ally said Biden should turn his focus to the South Carolina firewall and performing well in Nevada.
“I’m thinking we should say fuck New Hampshire and head west and south,” the ally said. “He’s going to get smashed in New Hampshire. I think it’s time to actually build the coalition we’ve been talking about for so long.”
But aides maintained on Tuesday that Biden would stay the course and put up a fight in the Granite state where he has been coming in second in recent surveys.
An Emerson College survey of New Hampshire released on Tuesday found Sanders clobbering the field at 32 percent, followed by Warren, Biden, Buttigieg and Klobuchar, who were bunched together at 12 or 13 percent support.
Behind the scenes, top aides and advisers were spinning the results to surrogates saying they performed well in the areas where they thought they would, saying they were competitive particularly in rural areas of the state.
On the conference call with donors on Tuesday, top campaign aides vowed that Biden would absolutely win in Nevada and South Carolina, long considered the former vice president’s firewall.
But it didn’t appear to help. One donor acknowledged feeling unsure of the candidate’s path forward.
“I’m just not sure how sustainable this is,” the donor said. “The campaign seems like it lacks excitement and momentum.”
Some Democratic strategists said Biden will inevitably face questions about the strength of his candidacy.
“It substantially diminishes his chances in New Hampshire and Nevada,” said Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party and a former aide to Hillary Clinton. “South Carolina becomes make or break and if he survives until Super Tuesday, his biggest opponent won’t be any of the progressives but rather [former New York City Mayor] Mike Bloomberg.”
A source familiar with Bloomberg’s strategy said he would likely try to pry Biden endorsements away from him, if the former vice president continues to perform poorly in the early states. Bloomberg’s campaign said that it would double its spending following the Iowa caucuses, likely pushing the former New York City mayor past the $500 million mark.
Fundraising could also become a serious issue for Biden going forward, as he’s struggled to match the blockbuster numbers his rivals are putting up. The former vice president has relied heavily on donors who have maxed out, potentially squeezing him even further going forward.
Biden spent all of the $23 million that he raised in the fourth quarter, leaving him with about $8.9 million in cash on hand. Sanders ended the quarter with about twice that, and Buttigieg has about $5.5 million more in cash on hand at the moment.
The Hill asked one Democratic who has raised money for Biden how big of a concern fundraising will be for him going forward.
“Big,” the fundraiser responded. “Biden basically got killed last night and because no one knows what happened, he got a lifeline or stay of execution. But what donors will look at that disaster in Iowa and says, ‘Joe, you wasted so much money to come in fourth or fifth, here’s more money, let me double down on you.’ I don’t see it.”
Still, Biden’s allies are optimistic.
They say that due to Iowa’s small delegate haul, the whole point of the caucuses is to leave with glowing press coverage, which no one will benefit from this year.
They’re certain that even if Biden gets shellacked in New Hampshire, that his base of black voters will stick with him and deliver victories in South Carolina and across the Super Tuesday states, when about one-third of the delegates will be up for grabs.
“Iowa is not about delegates, Joe won’t lose many there, it’s about the press being so hungry for a story they take a tiny sample that is totally unrepresentative of the U.S. and make grand pronouncements about it,” said Howard Gutman, a Biden supporter and former ambassador in the Obama administration. “The election gods said not this time — we’re moving on to more important states. The campaign knew it would be a slog in the beginning before they started to rack up victories.”
And while the results were so slow to come in, some say that may have helped Biden.
“Maybe the person who benefitted the most from this glitch might have been Joe Biden because all indications are that Joe Biden was sitting somewhere in the third or fourth range with the first alignments, and after realignment,” Chuck Todd of NBC News said. “It’s very possible that once they do the delegate reallocation, he was going to be in fourth.”
“If you look at it in that sense, Joe Biden may have dodged a bullet,” Todd added.