SOMERSWORTH, N.H. — Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden on Wednesday called his poor showing in Iowa’s kick-off caucuses a “gut punch.”
If so, it’s a punch delivered largely by his own party’s obsession with impeachment, which has put the one-time Democratic front-runner’s record in the spotlight and raised questions about his son’s business dealings in Ukraine and China.
Mr. Biden has wilted, and it is President Trump, the target of impeachment, who has emerged stronger than ever.
Gallup says Mr. Trump’s approval rating is at a record high 49% — up from 40% when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry in late September. Gallup says half the country now thinks Mr. Trump deserves reelection.
“It looks like this could be the year of the backfire,” said Jim McLaughlin, a GOP pollster who has worked for the Trump team.
Weeks of focus on Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden produced a clear winner, he said.
“Not quite sure what Pelosi was thinking, but all the talk of corruption in the Ukraine, Hunter Biden and Burisma hurt Biden and actually made Donald Trump stronger. And by the look on Nancy Pelosi’s face, she knows it,” he said.
The impeachment case against Mr. Trump centered on his request for Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden getting a high-paying job at allegedly corrupt Ukraine energy company Burisma while his father led Obama administration efforts in that graft-riddled country.
Former state Rep. Peter Sullivan of Portsmouth, who is supporting Mr. Biden, acknowledged that impeachment appeared to hurt him in Iowa and that former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg benefitted.
“I don’t understand it,” he said. “I don’t think [Mr. Buttigieg] is qualified.”
Mr. Buttigieg and Mr. Biden had Iowa mostly to themselves over the last couple of weeks as Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Bernard Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were trapped in Washington for the impeachment trial of Mr. Trump. The timing — the result of Mrs. Pelosi’s decision to refuse to send over the articles of impeachment for a month — could not have been worse for them.
In those weeks, Mr. Buttigieg soared and Mr. Biden slid. The current results from Iowa put Mr. Buttigieg in first in delegates awarded, and Mr. Biden a disappointing fourth.
Mr. Biden, speaking to a rally crowd of about 150 people in a banquet hall at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post Wednesday, said he has time for a comeback.
“I know there are an awful lot of folks out there who are writing off this campaign. But I tell you what, they have been trying to do that from the moment I entered the race. Well, I’ve got news for them. I’m not going anywhere,” he said.
Symone D. Sanders, a senior advisor to the Biden campaign, doubted the impeachment trial was a hindrance. She said if anything it “exonerated” the candidate, with witnesses telling the House impeachment inquiry that Mr. Biden’s pressure on Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor was in line with U.S. policy.
“Hunter Biden didn’t do anything wrong,” she said. “The basis of this entire conversation is a lie. It is a conspiracy theory.”
And, she told The Washington Times, the impeachment showed voters Mr. Trump is scared to face Mr. Biden.
“If anything, we think impeachment has solidified our theory of the case. And we look forward to continuing to make our case on the campaign trail and we look forward to seeing Donald Trump on that debate stage in the general election,” she said.
Mike Gauthier, 47, a communications consultant for pharmaceutical companies who is a strong Biden supporter, said it is too early to say how impeachment has affected Mr. Biden’s standing.
He worried that the focus on Hunter Biden did resonate with “low information voters,” who he said can decide an election.
“It is very frustrating,” he said.
Beyond impeachment, he said he’s worried over Mr. Biden’s stumbles and stuttering in the last debate. “It bothered a lot of people,” he said.
New Hampshire is an even tougher sell for Mr. Biden than Iowa.
The latest Boston Globe/Suffolk University tracking poll Wednesday showed Mr. Sanders on top at 24% support in the Granite State, while Mr. Buttigieg has climbed into a tie with Mr. Biden for second place at 15%. That’s a 4-point leap for Mr. Buttigieg and a 3-point drop for Mr. Biden.
“It’s not a great demographic for Joe here. Whatever he gets is gravy,” said Mr. Sullivan, the former state representative.
He said Mr. Biden doesn’t need to win or come in second in New Hampshire, but he does need “a solid showing.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said impeachment has benefitted the GOP beyond Mr. Trump and called it “a political loser” for Democrats.
“Every one of our people in tough races, every one of them, is in better shape today than they were before impeachment started,” he said.
Stephen Dinan reported from Washington, D.C.
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