He sank Biden’s presidential chances 30 years ago. Now he’s hoping to send him to the White House

Frank Fahey helped blow the future vice-president's White House ambitions in 1987 – but, he tells The Independent, a lot has changed since then

Clark Mindock
Manchester, New Hampshire
Sunday 09 February 2020 18:08 GMT
Joe Biden exaggerates his academic record in row with reporter in 1987

In the autumn of 1987, Frank Fahey found himself in the crosshairs of Joe Biden, then a young senator from Delaware who unleashed an angry outburst at a small event early in his first run for president.

At a home in western New Hampshire, Fahey figured he would ask a question about a brewing scandal for the future vice president about his academic record, but the stress of Biden’s first presidential run – which was already beleaguered by claims that he had plagiarised a speech on the campaign trail – seemed to get the better of him.

“We just went to a house party and Biden was there because he was a candidate for the nomination,” Fahey tells The Independent. “And I asked him what I thought was just an innocent question and he pretty much knocked me off the wall.”

It was an flare-up caught on C-Span cameras, and spread throughout the country with pre-internet virality. Responding in a way that in 2020 seems remarkably Trumpian – “I think I probably have a much higher IQ than you do, I suspect” – Biden put one of the last nails in the coffin for his campaign, and dropped out of the race shortly after.

But, some 33 years later, Fahey says that he is ready to vote for Biden during his third race. If anything, the mere fact that Biden was on the campaign trail so long ago when someone like Pete Buttigieg was kindergarten-age underscores an experience Fahey values deeply: “I think he has had so much experience between his 36 years in the Senate and eight years as Obama’s vice president.

After four years with Donald Trump as president, undermining international alliances, Fahey thinks the next president needs to know what he or she is doing from day one: “I think Biden can hit the ground running. I think he knows the people to get a good team of advisers around him, so I think he could make an outstanding president.”

With just two days until the New Hampshire primary, all signs point towards a disappointing third run for Biden, even as he has insisted that he could lose in both of the first two states in the primary season – he came in fourth place in the Iowa caucuses last week – and still mount a comeback in Nevada and South Carolina.

In New Hampshire, Biden has been campaigning around the state, but doing his best to manage expectations as enthusiasm has seemed to shift away from him and towards candidates like Pete Buttigieg, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

On Friday night, early in the final debate in Manchester before voters head to the polls in the Granite State, Biden all but conceded defeat early. “I took a hit in Iowa”, he acknowledged, “and I’ll probably take it here”.

It was a statement that was realistic, given the polls. According to Real Clear Politics, Biden has seen his polling tank, and currently sits in third place behind Sanders and Buttigieg. He’s just a tad ahead of Warren in aggregates of Granite State polls, though her numbers have shown much less volatility as the former vice president has cratered.

Fahey didn’t seem to mind that Biden’s polls might not look so great. But he was offended by the concession, just days before the primary, as volunteers across the state would have been gearing up to head out into 10F (-12C) weather to knock on doors for him, or spend their weekend making calls trying to boost his support.

“I know for a fact having talked to some today that it’s discouraging to hear him say something like that with his supporters still out there working hard on the phone and knocking on doors as they are,” he says.

On Saturday night, just a day after the debates, those volunteers and supporters didn’t seem to show up to support the vice president, either. At the Mcintyre-Shaheen 100 Club fundraiser in Manchester, Biden’s section of the SNHU arena was dwarfed by those of Warren, Klobuchar, Sanders and Buttigieg.

And he failed to gain the kind of cross-supporter cheers that nearly every other candidate managed. Instead, Biden gave what has become a somewhat regular campaign speech. He asked aloud how there could be the poverty he said he saw that morning at a food drive in Manchester. He promised to restore the US to its former dignity. The crowd largely sat silent.

When pressed, Fahey acknowledges he is “not 100 per cent” sure that Biden can win the nomination, or the election. He says he has never harboured a grudge against Biden for the 1987 outburst, and was actually planning on voting for him if he had the chance all those years ago. But he is worried about Biden’s age, and how he might perform in a debate against Trump.

“Between [the Friday] debate, and some of the other debates we’ve held, I worry about him getting through all this and into the White House. So yeah, I have some reservations,” says Fahey, who sees Klobuchar as his second best option. “But I still believe he is the best man for the job. And I can’t get away from that.”

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