Several of Joe Biden’s most prominent endorsers in New Hampshire have been quietly signaling for weeks that the campaign needs to make changes if it wants to win the first-in-the-nation primary, interviews with Democrats directly familiar with the state operation reveal.
Up until recently, Biden had maintained a comfortable standing in early polls in New Hampshire. But that advantage has disappeared amid the growing momentum and war chests of two neighboring state rivals, and now, as the official filing date for the primary kicked off on Wednesday, his early backers are blaming different parts of the campaign’s structure for hampering his ability to stay on top.
Some Biden backers in New Hampshire believe the problems are at the national level, where they see a visible lack of direction that has trickled down to the early states for some time now. Others dismiss that dynamic as natural friction between any state and national teams, and say the greater issue is a communication breakdown happening on the ground.
“We just need to know who we’re supposed to be talking to on a regular basis,” Peter Sullivan, a Democratic former state legislator, told The Daily Beast.
That critique was echoed in interviews with multiple Democrats who are publicly supporting Biden, including some who have worked on his previous presidential campaigns, as well as those who have longstanding ties to state politics.
“Communication has been a problem. We’re all busy but we all need direction,” one longtime veteran of New Hampshire politics who endorsed Biden, said, expressing frustration about several aspects of the campaign.
The supporter added, “there hasn’t been a lot of activity that I’ve been involved in. That’s their choice. They can use me as they like. But obviously, you want to do more.”
Supporters of rival candidates tend to promote their crowd sizes as markers of success, and New Hampshire is no different. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have both attracted throngs of people to their recent events. But supporters of Biden contend that while he doesn’t generate the same massive crowds, he’s better than both of the progressive senators at retail politics, and that his personal connection with people helps in the wooing process.
However, a recent survey shows that style only gets Biden so far. In a University of New Hampshire poll released on Tuesday, Biden’s support reached its lowest point in the primary in the state, dropping from 24 percent in July to 15 percent. Rocketing past him were Sanders, with 21 percent, and Warren with 18 percent.
Andy Smith, a professor at UNH who conducted the poll, told The Daily Beast that it shows the limitations of name recognition and the campaign’s “electability” argument.
“You’re electable until people don’t think you are,” Smith said. “It’s going to be extremely difficult and he’s going to have to have a fairly significant shakeup in the campaign to get things going.”
Then there’s the fundraising issue. The release of his third quarter totals revealed Biden’s campaign was more cash-strapped than other top-tier contenders. He raised $15.2 million over three months, ending with just $9 million on hand, compared to Sanders, who raised raised $25.3 million, Warren, who raised $24.6 million, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who brought in $19.1 million during the same time frame.
That problem, one longtime surrogate said, rests solely with the national campaign.
“I don’t think the problem is as much in New Hampshire as it is in the upper echelon [of the campaign],” a longtime Biden surrogate in the state said. “They have to adjust more, they have to be more flexible, and more cognizant of New Hampshire politics and what their staff is going through and how difficult it is.”
A Biden New Hampshire campaign official pointed to 10 offices and 50 staff on the ground, adding that they engage early backers by sending weekly updates, holding regular conference calls, and asking them to meet with organizing staff to provide advice. In addition, the official said the team regularly connects supporters with national staff.
“I feel a lot of empathy for the campaign workers because this time there are so many undecided voters,” former Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a top Biden backer, told The Daily Beast.
Sullivan, who also acknowledged the work of the organizers on the ground, said sometimes his concerns would be better handled by a political staffer. “Most of my direct communication has come from the field staff,” he said. “But sometimes I’ll have things I need to talk about and that’s not the appropriate point of contact.”
Ned Helms, a veteran Democratic activist and former state official who held key roles in Obama's 2008 and 2012 New Hampshire campaigns, said any concerns he has about the campaign are largely based on the nature of the competitive primary, and the increased spotlight on Biden in the 24/7 news cycle.
“Do I have concerns? Sure I do, because I know it’s going to be a close campaign,” Helms said. “There’s always more to be done but the ground game is on target.”
And some prominent supporters say Biden’s efforts in the Granite State are going just fine.
Former Gov. John Lynch, the state’s longest serving governor who endorsed Biden just hours after he launched his bid, said their campaign has done a “great job at communicating,” adding that he receives direction from both the national and state directors.
“I probably get 10 or 15 emails a day saying exactly where the vice president is,” Lynch told The Daily Beast.
Still, some of Biden’s top backers say they want to be more involved and intend to go directly to top campaign officials for guidance.
“The purpose of the whole thing is to replace the person who’s in the White House right now,” said Chris Spirou, a veteran of New Hampshire politics who’s held elected positions in the state. “I plan to talk to people in the campaign and see that we get everybody to pull their weight.”