Biden struggles to find path as Buttigieg, Bloomberg rise

Allies and aides to Joe BidenJoe BidenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE say they're beginning to wonder if the former vice president has a path to winning the Democratic presidential nomination. 

One day before the New Hampshire primary, where some pollsters have predicted that Biden could come in fifth place, the Biden World allies are expressing disappointment in his standing in the Granite State.

Some have also begun to call into question his chances of winning the Nevada caucuses later this month and even his hopes for victory in his so-called firewall state of South Carolina. 

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Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE’s surge in the polls after his success in Iowa and former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE’s rising campaign have added to the gloom surrounding Biden.

“It feels like a funeral,” said one ally who is in regular contact with the campaign. 

Biden has downplayed expectations for New Hampshire, but the ally said the former vice president’s remarks at the top of Friday’s debate that he’d “take a hit” in New Hampshire only made matters worse by further depressing support.

Biden “needs a spark, and I don't see it happening for him [Tuesday night],” one longtime aide added.

Publicly, Biden aides are setting low expectations for New Hampshire but sounding a more positive note for their campaign.

“We believe that regardless of what happens tomorrow night, we’re going to continue on with our plans to compete hard in Nevada, South Carolina, Super Tuesday and beyond,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said at a Bloomberg News reporter roundtable in Manchester.

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During the roundtable, Bedingfield disputed reports that Biden’s fundraising would suffer because of his poor standing in the early states. 

“Despite speculation that Biden does not have the money to keep up the fight,” she said, “we have the resources that we need to compete, execute on our plan. We feel confident that we have what we need.”

Democratic strategists aren’t convinced that Biden’s strategy is a solid one.

“Without money, it’s hard to see him advancing very far into the process,” said Democratic strategist Jim Manley. 

More broadly, Manley said Biden doesn’t seem to be the right match for the electorate. 

“I never was convinced that he was the right person to run this time around, and I think what we've seen over the past couple of weeks, that has proven that to be the case,” he said.

“His claim to the centrist path was never as clear as they may have thought,” Manley added. “And now we have both Mayor Pete and Mayor Bloomberg making the case that they’re the best person to occupy that lane.”

Manley said there’s no guarantee that Biden can stop the bleeding in South Carolina.

“I’m not convinced S.C. is going to be his firewall,” he said. “I think voters are going to take a second look at the entire field.”

In an interview with “CBS This Morning” on Monday, Biden said his prospects would brighten when the campaign moved on to the more diverse states of Nevada and South Carolina. 

“Nothing’s going to happen until we get down to a place and around the country where there’s much more diversity,” he said.

“And, you know, you’re always behind the eight ball when you’re running in New Hampshire and you have two people from the neighboring states,” he said, referring to Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.).

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Asked by host Tony Dokoupil why voters in other states should support him if voters in New Hampshire and Iowa refused, Biden replied: “Because the other voters out there represent a significant portion of the American people and they look like America. That’s the reason why.” 

The longtime Biden aide echoed that the race isn’t over until it’s clearer where black voters will end up.

“If Biden can show that the black support is unshakable then [Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE] and [Buttigieg] won’t be viable,” the aide said, adding that Biden has “just got to hold on and see what happens in the last two [early states]."

Biden has underscored confidence in his campaign by pointing to his leading national polls. But a Quinnipiac University poll out on Monday showed that Sanders has overtaken the former vice president. 

The survey showed the Vermont senator receiving the support of 25 percent of Democrats, surging ahead of Biden by 8 points. 

Bloomberg — who has not competed in any of the early contests — also soared to third place, showing an erosion of support for Biden.

Buttigieg came in fifth place in the national poll, behind Warren, but received a bounce of 4 points since the last survey before the Iowa caucuses. 

One Democratic strategist who is not affiliated with any of the presidential campaigns said both Bloomberg and Buttigieg are a threat to Biden as he treads water in the early contests. 

“But it’s basically irrelevant at this point which is the bigger threat because the campaign is imploding,” the strategist said.