Joe Biden’s campaign saw his fifth-place finish coming early enough Tuesday to hightail it to South Carolina, a state where he’s long held a giant lead in polling before voting even ended Tuesday in New Hampshire.
By the time the early results were on television, the former vice president had landed in Columbia to begin a three-week cross-country push that could either result in an improbable comeback or the eventual end to his third bid for the presidency.
After running a lethargic campaign since his fourth-place showing in Iowa last week, Biden appeared jolted awake by the reality of his position. He said he was determined to fight on in states with more racial diversity than the first two contests on the nominating calendar.
“We just heard from the first two states. Two of them. Not the whole nation. Not half the nation. Not a quarter of the nation. Not 10%. Two, two. Where I come from that’s the opening bell, not the closing bell,” he told a crowd in Columbia, South Carolina.
“I know this is going to be the fight of my life but as the old song goes, ‘Lord don’t move my mountain. Give me the ability to climb.’ I can’t do it alone. I need your help to climb that mountain and together we’re going to beat Donald Trump,” he said.
Biden’s team is confident that he can recover. He enjoys strong support from black and Latino voters and sees his Democratic opponents’ as weak with those constituents. But first he has to survive 11 days until the Nevada caucus and another week until the South Carolina primary. Three days after that is Super Tuesday.
Money could be a problem for the former vice president. He likely has enough to keep his campaign on life support but may struggle to stay competitive. He said this week that his campaign has been raising an average of $350,000 a day, while the campaigns of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders all boasted of million-dollar days last week.
The political class’ narrative out of Iowa was that the candidate who had staked claim to front-runner status by insisting he was most electable, had stumbled. He did little to buck that while campaigning in New Hampshire, almost encouraging voters to take another look at the other candidates they also liked.
But in South Carolina, he asked his supporters to stand by him.
“When you hear all these pundits and experts, cable TV talkers, talking about the race, tell them: ‘It ain’t over, man. We’re just getting started. Our votes count too. We’re not going to let anyone take this election away from me.’”
While a gospel choir sang in South Carolina, a recording played 1980s Paul Simon tunes in a Nashua, New Hampshire ballroom where roughly 150 people gathered to hear from former New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, an early Biden endorser in the state, and the candidate’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens.
“Joe Biden loves New Hampshire and supports it remaining first in the nation,” Lynch said.
“I do love New Hampshire and I mean it,” Biden said a few minutes later via a livestream that aired on three TVs in the ballroom. They vowed to be back to campaign against Donald Trump.
“We’ll see you in the general,” Jill Biden said.
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