Joe Biden says he took a 'gut punch' in Iowa, targets Sanders and Buttigieg before NH primary

Key Points
  • Joe Biden says "we took a gut punch" in the Iowa caucuses, but tells New Hampshire voters "we're going to come back." 
  • Biden questions the qualifications of two of his rivals, Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders, as they lead in Iowa with partial results reported. 
  • Sanders is leading in polls of New Hampshire ahead of the state's Feb. 11 primary. 
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire, February 4, 2020.
Rick Wilking | Reuters

Joe Biden gave his most frank assessment yet Wednesday of his poor showing in the Iowa caucuses as he urged New Hampshire voters to help him regain his footing in the 2020 presidential race.

During remarks in Somersworth, New Hampshire, the former vice president also targeted the two men leading in Iowa as delayed results trickle in from Monday's botched caucuses. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are vying for first place in the Hawkeye State with 71% of precincts reporting.

Biden stands in a distant fourth place behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., according to partial data released by the Iowa Democratic Party. He entered Iowa as a 2020 Democratic primary front-runner after leading national polls for most of the race.

"I am not going to sugarcoat it, we took a gut punch in Iowa. The whole process took a gut punch," Biden said about the first-in-the-nation nominating contest, which was dogged by issues with an app used to report results. "But, look, this isn't the first time in my life I've been knocked down."

Biden later said an "awful lot of folks" want to "write off this campaign."

"But I tell you what, they've been trying to do that from the moment I entered the race," he said. "Well, I got news for them, I'm not going anywhere. And I'm counting on New Hampshire. We're going to come back."

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Biden acknowledged his disappointing performance only a few days before the Feb. 11 primary in New Hampshire. The former vice president trails Sanders in the Granite State, while Buttigieg and Warren are not far behind him, according to recent polling averages.

A strong New Hampshire performance could help Biden hold off Sanders in Nevada and South Carolina, the third and fourth early nominating states. Biden has led in most surveys of those states. On Tuesday, his campaign tried to convince donors that he will still win Nevada and South Carolina after the poor Iowa showing.

Biden questioned the qualifications of both Sanders and Buttigieg on Wednesday as he pushed to gain traction in New Hampshire. He contended Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, would hurt congressional candidates in the general election because Republicans would associate them with the label.

"But if Sen. Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat in America coming down the ballot in blue states, red states, purple states, in easy districts, in competitive ones. Every Democrat will have to carry the label Sen. Sanders has chosen for himself. He calls him — and I don't criticize him — he calls himself a democratic socialist," Biden said, while calling Sanders a "good man."

It is unclear whether Sanders' ideology would really damage other Democrats in November. Biden leads Trump by 6 percentage points in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, while Sanders has a 4-percentage point edge, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Biden also criticized Buttigieg — whom he called by his moniker of "Mayor Pete" — for characterizing the former vice president as part of a failed power structure in Washington, D.C. Biden highlighted what he considers some of his biggest achievements in the federal government, including the Affordable Care Act, the Paris climate accord and the Violence Against Women Act.

"Is he really saying the Obama-Biden administration was a failure? Pete, just say it out loud," Biden said. "I have great respect for Mayor Pete and his service to this nation. But I do believe it's a risk, to be just straight up with you, for this party to nominate someone who has never held an office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana. I do believe it's a risk."

The Sanders and Buttigieg campaigns did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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