Biden launches new attacks on Sanders, Buttigieg, outlines risks to nominating them as primary race enters critical stretch

Preliminary Iowa caucus results show the former vice president in fourth place.

SOMERSWORTH, New Hampshire -- Following what appears to be a disappointing finish in Iowa, former Vice President Joe Biden took direct aim at two of his main rivals for the Democratic nomination during a speech in Somersworth, New Hampshire on Wednesday afternoon, arguing that one's embrace of a 'socialist' label and the other's lack of experience are too great a risk to take in the fight to unseat President Donald Trump.

The former vice president went after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for embracing the “Democratic socialist” label and told the crowd assembled at a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) hall that down-ballot candidates in both "easy" and "competitive" districts will not want Sanders to campaign with them.

"If Senator Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat in America up and down the ballot in blue states, red states, purple states in easy districts and competitive ones, every Democrat will have to carry the label senator Sanders has chosen for himself,” Biden said of Sanders’ self-proclaimed "Democratic Socialist" label.

“So when Sanders attacks me for having baggage, I have to tell you, the 60 plus candidates that I campaigned for in the toughest districts in the country just two years ago, don't see me as baggage. They wanted me in their districts,” Biden said. “I doubt whether many people asked Bernie Sanders to come in and campaign.”

While Biden and Sanders have exchanged barbs previously in the primary over their records on Social Security and gun control, the former vice president issued his most direct criticism of former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg to date. Biden questioned Buttigieg’s depth of experience, responding to attacks from the former mayor over his long history in Washington, D.C.

“Pete. Just say it out loud. 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 and to nominate someone who's never held an office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana. I do believe it's a risk. He has enormous potential. But I think we need a president who can bring us together, a leader can unite the party and unite the country," Biden said of the former South Bend, Indiana Mayor.

The move is significant for Biden, who has largely tried to stay away from criticism of his Democratic opponents, warning against the formation of what former President Obama called “a circular firing squad” during an Obama Foundation event in Berlin, Germany last year.

Biden has long touted his ability to help secure wins for down-ballot Democrats, citing his time on the trail during the 2018 midterms, and the half-dozen endorsements his 2020 campaign has received from freshman members of the House in districts that flipped from red to blue.

Earlier in his speech, and for the first time since the release of preliminary Iowa caucus results, which show him in fourth place behind Buttigieg, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Biden acknowledged the disappointing finish in the state.

“I'm not gonna sugarcoat it. We took a gut punch in Iowa. The whole process took a gut punch. But look, this isn't the first time in my life I've been knocked down,” Biden admitted.

But Biden pushed back on any suggestion that his campaign was dead on arrival, saying the Granite State offered a chance for a comeback--one is his counting on.

“I know there are an awful lot of folks out there who are -- write off this campaign. But it's gone -- But I’ll tell you what, they've been trying to do that from the moment I entered the race. Well, I've got news for them. I'm not going anywhere. I’m not going anywhere. And I’m counting on New Hampshire. We’re gonna come back

Biden also got some encouraging news on Wednesday, his campaign announcing that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), which represents 775,000 active and retired electrical workers in North America, is endorsing his candidacy--earlier than it has in years past.

“Vice President Biden has been a longtime friend of working families and the IBEW,” said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson in a press release announcing the endorsement.

“Joe has a long record of standing up for union members, and we believe it’s in the best interest of IBEW members to elect him our next president.”