SALEM, N.H. — Several hundred people packed an elementary school here on a chilly Saturday morning to hear Joe BidenJoe BidenHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Trump finalizing executive order calling on police to use ‘force with compassion’ The Hill’s Campaign Report: Biden campaign goes on offensive against Facebook MORE speak. More than a hundred others waited to hear from him in an overflow room in the school’s cafeteria.
Several months ago, Biden and his aides had mostly written off New Hampshire, acknowledging that two other candidates, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Hill’s 12:30 Report: Milley apologizes for church photo-op Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWarren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Joint Chiefs chairman says he regrets participating in Trump photo-op | GOP senators back Joint Chiefs chairman who voiced regret over Trump photo-op | Senate panel approves 0B defense policy bill Trump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names MORE (D-Mass.), hail from neighboring states.
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But as a string of recent polls have shown the former vice president in second place behind Sanders, his campaign has signaled a renewed interest in the Granite State that has been matched by his crowds.
While Sanders has held a consistent lead in polls of New Hampshire, the Biden campaign is arguing the state remains within reach.
“We feel good in New Hampshire,” said a senior aide on the Biden campaign. “We feel like we’re in a very strong position to win New Hampshire.”
Sanders is the clear favorite in the Granite State after winning its vote in 2016 in a blowout, by 23 percentage points over eventual Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWhite House accuses Biden of pushing ‘conspiracy theories’ with Trump election claim Biden courts younger voters — who have been a weakness Trayvon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton qualifies to run for county commissioner in Florida MORE.
Sanders holds an 8-point advantage in the RealClearPolitics average of polls of New Hampshire. In a poll released this week by The Boston Herald, Franklin Pierce University and NBC10, he finished in first place with 29 percent. Biden came in second with 22 percent, ahead of Warren at 16 percent and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegScaled-back Pride Month poses challenges for fundraising, outreach Biden hopes to pick VP by Aug. 1 It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process MORE at 10 percent.
The centrist Buttigieg’s standing in the poll was particularly good news for Biden, since he and the young former mayor had been battling for support in New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Feb. 11. In four polls this month, the two had traded second and third place, with Warren coming in fourth before rising above Buttigieg in the Herald poll.
“His support is solid, and I believe it’s underestimated,” said Terry Shumaker, a Biden surrogate who served a similar role for Clinton four years ago.
Biden held three events across the state over the weekend, a signal that he’s investing more time even as he also battles ahead of next week’s Iowa caucuses. Biden is doing so while candidates such as Warren, Sanders and Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Biden calls on Facebook to change political speech rules | Dems demand hearings after Georgia election chaos | Microsoft stops selling facial recognition tech to police Democrats demand Republican leaders examine election challenges after Georgia voting chaos Harris grapples with defund the police movement amid veep talk MORE (D-Minn.) are mostly stuck in Washington, D.C., for President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE’s impeachment trial.
While he didn’t take questions at his campaign stop in Salem — a move some speculate was to avoid making a gaffe at a key moment in the race — he greeted people one by one after the event, something campaign aides say he will do more of as the state’s primary inches closer.
He also sat for interviews with local reporters, telling one that while New Hampshire wasn’t a must-win for his campaign, “I think I can win New Hampshire. I will win New Hampshire.”
Sanders surrogates say they find that hard to believe.
They say their campaign’s strong showing in polls is matched by a solid ground game. While Biden has been to 39 events in New Hampshire, according to his campaign, Sanders has had 65 events. And while Biden has 55 staffers on the ground, that’s less than half the number of Sanders aides in the state.
A poll released Tuesday afternoon should bolster confidence in Sanders.
The American Research Group survey found Sanders in first place at 28 percent support, well ahead of Biden at 13 percent. Buttigieg won 12 percent and Warren 11 percent, while Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardGabbard drops defamation lawsuit against Clinton It’s as if a Trump operative infiltrated the Democratic primary process 125 lawmakers urge Trump administration to support National Guard troops amid pandemic MORE (D-Hawaii) won 8 percent and Klobuchar registered 7 percent.
A second-place showing for Biden in New Hampshire wouldn’t be a terrible result, depending on what happens in Iowa. Warren and Sanders have always been seen as favorites in New Hampshire because they represent neighboring states.
One Sanders ally acknowledged the Vermont senator won’t perform as well as he did in 2016, when his only competition was, essentially, Clinton.
“He has more competition now from Biden and from Warren and the others,” the ally said. “But I still think he comes out on top and has a strong showing.”
Biden allies are counting on last minute support from voters who can vouch for Biden’s experience.
New Hampshire voter Liz Duck had a hard time settling on just one Democratic presidential contender because “the field is replete with good people,” but ultimately landed on Biden for his experience.
“What tipped me over the balance was [that] he will not need to be oriented to his job,” Duck, a resident of Auburn, N.H., told The Hill. “That’s a big point. He needs to hit the ground running. We have a lot of cleanup to do, I think.”
She has seen about five presidential candidates so far in this presidential cycle and said they were all “very impressive, very nice people, very committed and sincere people, but I want Biden to win.”
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, argues that while Sanders has a neighboring-state advantage and enthusiasm on the ground, a strong performance by Biden in the Iowa caucuses could help him seal the deal in the Granite State.
“I don’t think he has a lot of ride-or-die-with-Joe support up here the way that Bernie does,” Scala said. “But I think there’s a reservoir of good will toward Biden among New Hampshire Democrats, especially older ones, that could help him.”