A trio of Democratic presidential candidates urged voters in New Hampshire on Saturday to not play it safe in the 2020 election, leveling an implicit critique of front-runner Joe Biden.
Biden has centered his campaign on his years of experience in Washington and a perceived ability to steal the support of white, working-class voters away from President Donald Trump. Speaking at the New Hampshire Democrats' state convention, Biden's rivals told voters to aim for more.
"Beating Donald Trump is the floor, it's not the ceiling," said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, was more explicit.
"Every time we've tried to play it safe with established and Washington-tenured figures, every single time we've come up short," Buttigieg told reporters after his remarks.
Booker and Buttigieg never mentioned Biden by name, nor did Julian Castro, the former Obama administration housing secretary who made a similar appeal. But the target of their message was clear: the former vice president who has led primary polls throughout the year.
The candidates were among 19 Democratic White House hopefuls who descended on New Hampshire for the party gathering. The event is a key opportunity for candidates to woo political power brokers in the first-in-the nation primary state.
Democrats in New Hampshire have been slow to endorse so far this election system. That's due in part to the large number of candidates in the race as well as lingering tensions over the 2016 primary battle between Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Biden was the first candidate to speak and focused his remarks on Trump, saying the president has "unleashed the deepest, darkest forces in this nation." He added: "We cannot, and I will not, let this man be re-elected president of the United States of America."
Castro said that if Democrats want to ensure Trump is defeated "we can't do the same old thing."
"We're not going to win by just trying to be safe," Castro said.
The convention was also an opportunity for the candidates to flex their organizational strength in New Hampshire. Supporters of the major candidates gathered outside the arena in the early morning hours, waving signs and chanting campaign slogans.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren's crowd of supporters stretched deep and erupted in cheers as the senator arrived to greet them. Rival campaigns grumbled privately that Warren, who represents neighboring Massachusetts, was benefiting from home field advantage.
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