Biden casts top rivals as a risk for party that wants to win

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, in Nashua, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

DES MOINES, Iowa – Facing questions about his campaign's viability, Joe Biden escalated his criticism of his top Democratic rivals on Wednesday, suggesting both Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg were risky choices for a party desperate for a return to the White House.

Biden conceded that he was disappointed by his sagging performance in the leadoff Iowa caucuses, calling it a “gut punch” for his campaign. As he turned his attention to New Hampshire, he sought to reenergize his campaign by drawing sharper contrasts with those who led in Iowa, including casting Sanders — a self-described democratic socialist — as a drag on others in the party.

"If Sen. Sanders is the nominee for the party, every Democrat in America up and down the ballot, in blue states, red states, purple states and easy districts and competitive ones, every Democrat will have to carry the label Sen. Sanders has chose for himself,” Biden said.

Biden was equally blunt about his assessment of Buttigieg, saying he didn't think the Democrats' standard-bearer against President Donald Trump should be someone who hasn't been elected to a higher office than mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a city of about 100,000.

“It's a risk, to be just straight up with you,” he said.

The tough talk comes as Biden's third presidential bid enters a critical stretch. He needs to bounce back from what partial results suggest could be a fourth place finish in Monday's Iowa caucuses. Biden trailed Buttigieg and Sanders, according to partial returns. He was also trailing Sen Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

That leaves some establishment Democrats, including some Biden supporters, questioning his contention that he'll reclaim clear front-runner status in the race once the primary fight moves beyond overwhelmingly white Iowa and New Hampshire to more racially diverse electorates.

“If he came in fourth, yeah, that could hurt,” said Bill Freeman, a Biden donor from Nashville, Tennessee, who added that he hadn’t even considered such a possibility heading into Monday’s caucuses. “That’s a bad night, no matter how you spin it.”