Forty-five minutes after Joe Biden’s first campaign event was supposed to start on Saturday, his crowd had grown restless. The former vice president wasn’t at the Rex Theatre in downtown Manchester and those crammed inside were wondering just how much longer they’d have to suck in the heated air before they get to see him speak. 

In the rafters, a chant broke out. 

“We Want Joe!” the voices said, overpowering the soundtrack of classic rock and commercial motown that had been playing on blast to keep the crowd from completely dozing off.

This is a microcosm of the failure of this campaign. The energy is slowly dissipating from this room.

Adam Ross

But no one picked it up. Instead, after two renditions, the men simply stopped. And those who’d bothered to consider joining in the chorus did what they’d been doing since it became clear that the event would not start on time: they dumped their faces back into their cellphones. 

“This is a microcosm of the failure of this campaign,” said Adam Ross, a Long Islander who helped start the chant. “The energy is slowly dissipating from this room.”

Biden’s campaign is running on fumes. A candidate with all the trappings of a traditional frontrunner—the long résumé, party backing, relevant experience, and steady poll numbers—suddenly is on electoral life support. A fourth-place showing in the Iowa Caucus days ago has raised the stakes for the upcoming primary. But even Biden himself seems to be grappling with the likelihood that another humiliation is on the horizon. His first answer during Friday night’s debate was devoted, in part, to explaining how he was likely to lose on Tuesday. 

For a candidate staring down another major setback—one that could irrevocably derail his presidential ambitions—one would expect Biden to be infused with a sense of urgency and desperation. But none of that was apparent on Saturday morning. And the lethargy that has come to define his campaign has begun to have an effect on voter perceptions. 

“I had a hunch, watching the debate last night, that maybe, just maybe, his heart was not in it,” said Jim Barry, who had come to New Hampshire from Buffalo, New York. “This was a call to duty for him. But it doesn’t feel like he actually wants it.” 

“2008 was his time,” said Kevin Both, who also was from New York, and who had traveled there with Barry. “Now, there’s not much gas left in the tank.” 

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