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After Iowa 'gut punch,' Biden sharpens criticism of Sanders and Buttigieg

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By Marianna Sotomayor and Gary Grumbach and Priscilla Thompson  with NBC News Politics
Image: Joe Biden boards his campaign bus after speaking in Somersworth, N.H
Joe Biden boards his campaign bus after speaking in Somersworth, N.H., on Feb. 5, 2020.   -   Copyright  Spencer Platt Getty Images

SOMERSWORTH, N.H. — After taking what he called a "gut punch" in the Iowa caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden is taking a new approach in the final days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, calling out his opponents directly to argue that they are unqualified to be the Democratic nominee.

Biden unloaded on Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at a rally here Wednesday in an effort to forcefully provide a reality check for voters by contrasting his electability and experience argument to the two Iowa caucus frontrunners.

Even though Biden has downplayed an apparent fourth place finish in the first-in-the-nation caucus state, his agitation for his loss has been on display since arriving in New Hampshire Tuesday, where he first began to directly call out Sanders by name.

But on Wednesday he went further than just criticizing Sanders' Medicare-for-All position, pointing at the fact that vulnerable Democratic down-ballot candidates in red and blue states alike would have to defend Sanders' far-reaching ideas, many of which Democrats have expressed skepticism about supporting.

"He calls him — and I don't criticize him — he calls himself a democratic-socialist. Well, we are already seeing what Donald Trump is going to do with that," Biden said. "Donald Trump is desperate to pin the label of 'socialist' on our party. We can't let him do that." Sanders declined to respond to shouted questions from reporters about Biden's comments following a Derry, N.H. town hall Wednesday.

Biden then took aim at Buttigieg, calling it a "risk" for Democrats to choose him as the nominee given that he "has never held an office higher than mayor of a town of 100,000 people in Indiana."

He also defended himself from recent attacks launched by Buttigieg after he said voters should not support Biden given his "old" Washington playbook.

"Is he really saying that the Obama-Biden administration was a failure? Pete, just say it out loud," Biden said after listening numerous achievements he was able to help make law like the Affordable Care Act to the Paris Climate Accord.

The Buttigieg campaign signaled they likely will not respond to Biden's comments, focusing their efforts instead on the remaining results coming out of Iowa where Buttigieg is currently in the lead.

The new directed attacks launched by Biden come after the candidate is facing the reality of a tougher path to the nomination than initially realized after trailing Buttigieg, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in the Iowa caucuses. Biden quickly pivoted his attention to New Hampshire, telling Granite Staters Wednesday that they could chart his "come back."

After describing his loss in Iowa and the caucus confusion as a "gut punch," Biden acknowledged that there are many people "who want to write off this campaign."

"Well I got news for them. I'm not going anywhere. I'm not going anywhere," he said.

But Biden's new attacks are notable given that Biden has often declined to respond to his opponents' attacks against him, telling his crowds and reporters that Democratic infighting only helps elect Trump.

"We can't let this Democratic race slide into a negative treatment of one another. We can't let this happen. The temptation is too much for some running. We just can't do it," Biden said in Waukee, Iowa Thursday.