MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Scrambling to salvage his presidential campaign, Joe Biden escalated his criticism of Pete Buttigieg on Saturday, mocking Buttigieg’s experience as mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and warning that he would struggle without the support of black voters who are the backbone of the Democratic Party.
At a campaign event in New Hampshire, as well as in a new online ad, Biden was biting in his critique of Buttigieg, who spent eight years leading a Midwestern city of about 100,000 people.
“I do not believe we’re a party at risk if I’m the nominee,” Biden told voters in Manchester. “I do believe we’re a party at risk if we nominate someone who has never held a higher office than the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.”
Biden is trying to avoid falling far behind both Buttigieg and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in a second straight nominating contest. Buttigieg and Sanders finished in an effective tie in the Iowa caucuses last Monday and are leading polls in New Hampshire heading into Tuesday’s primary. Biden was a distant fourth in Iowa, also finishing behind Elizabeth Warren.
Shortly before he spoke in Manchester, Biden’s campaign released a video comparing his record as vice president with Buttigieg’s service as mayor. While Biden helped President Barack Obama pass sweeping health care legislation and orchestrate a bailout of the auto industry, the ad says, Buttigieg was installing decorative lights on bridges and repairing sidewalks.
Buttigieg’s campaign accused Biden of trivializing the work that goes on in small cities across the country.
“The vice president’s decision to run this ad speaks more to where he currently stands in this race than it does about Pete’s perspective as a mayor and veteran,” said Chris Meagher, Buttigieg’s campaign spokesman.
Biden said during a debate Friday night that he probably will struggle in the New Hampshire contest, which Sanders won by more than 20 percentage points during his 2016 campaign. Biden hopes to stay viable through South Carolina, which votes at the end of the month and is the first state on the primary calendar with a large black population.
Buttigieg has struggled to build support with black voters, according to public opinion polls, and Biden is hoping that Buttigieg’s early momentum is blunted when the campaign heads south.
“This is a diverse party,” Biden said. “It’s the reason why we’re strong. Our nominee has to reflect that strength.”
Biden and others in the race, including Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, have also issued pointed warnings in recent days about what they see as the risks of nominating Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.
Klobuchar leaned into that criticism in the debate and was the only candidate to raise a hand when moderators asked if anyone was worried about having Sanders at the top of the ticket. On Saturday, Klobuchar said the moment proved she isn’t afraid to say what she thinks.
“People know I’m straightforward and I tell them the truth,” she said. Klobuchar also announced to voters that her campaign had raised $1.5 million since the debate.
Warren, who represents neighboring Massachusetts in the Senate, also needs a strong finish in New Hampshire to prove her campaign viability in the primary. As she spoke to supporters before they headed out to knock on doors, she noted that it had been three years since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., admonished her on the Senate floor with the phrase “nevertheless, she persisted” — an expression that Warren has turned into a motto for her campaign.
“I’ve been winning unwinnable fights pretty much all my life,” she said.
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