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What is with him? How could Joe Biden torpedo his candidacy this quickly?

He had a year as front-runner in the Democratic race to prepare for the first two crucial primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire. Win one, finish high in another, and the prize would be his.

But in the space of a week, assuming his New Hampshire results come in as dismally as predicted, he’s become moribund. Recovery is possible but unlikely. The vultures are hovering, and little sympathy is warranted. Mr. Biden had a half-century in politics to prepare for this moment – including two previous failed presidential bids – and thus far he is showing what he learned from it all: nothing.

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After his fourth-place finish in Iowa, I went to New Hampshire thinking he’d regroup. He got off a good shot at newcomer Pete Buttigieg with an ad about how the top achievement by the mayor of South Bend, Ind., was overseeing sidewalk repairs.

But on Saturday, at an all-candidates show in Manchester – the first big post-Iowa test – he was flat, reading from notes, no blood in the veins. How could that be?

Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden pauses while speaking at a campaign stop at Gilford Community Church, in Gilford, N.H., on Feb. 10, 2020.

Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press

It was onward to Hudson, N.H., for what was supposed to be a spirited rally Monday afternoon. But thanks to the candidate himself, it had more the feel of a death watch. Mr. Biden had made the boneheaded observation that after Iowa he might well take another hit in the Granite State. Who does that? What seasoned politician predicts defeat?

In Hudson, people filed in glumly. About 400 showed up, a small fraction of the crowd Mr. Buttigieg drew at a rally nearby. Instead of a rousing opening, Mr. Biden looked disconsolate, like he’d been knocked down by just one punch. He deepened the gloom in the room by talking about his family tragedies and the importance of hope.

He finally raised his voice when he shouted that Donald Trump was owned by the National Rifle Association. That drew cheers, but then it was back to delivering a seminar when what was needed was a stem-winder.

He talked about foreign policy. You got a sense of his depth of experience, his breadth of knowledge and perspective compared to the other candidates. But it had a past-tense ring about it. People filed out as solemnly as they filed in.

From death watch, it was on to a completely different dynamic: an Amy Klobuchar rally. There was a feeling there that if she did well in New Hampshire, she could take off, and rise as fast as Mr. Biden falls. What a show compared to Joe, this senator from Minnesota – high on many lists as a vice-presidential pick – put on. Power, passion, joy and zingers galore.

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Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar speaks during a campaign event in Exeter, N.H., on Feb. 10, 2020.

KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

The Democrats’ colour is blue and, speaking of the swing states they lost to Mr. Trump in 2016, she vowed “to build a beautiful blue wall around these states and make Donald Trump pay for it.” She promised to get rid of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos not in the first 100 days but “in the first 100 seconds!” And about those immigrants Mr. Trump denigrates, she said, “Twenty-five per cent of U.S. Nobel laureates were born in other countries.”

She will have to surpass Elizabeth Warren, but Ms. Warren has been fading. In front of a large crowd Monday, Ms. Warren was unremittingly strident for an hour, and you felt like shouting, “Please stop. Our ears are hurting.” She’s got the talent, the quick mind and the policy depth – but she is not connecting.

I moved on to a rally for the resilient Bernie Sanders. He was so intense, so red-faced, you feared another health trauma. He attacked Mr. Trump, as all the candidates do, on the economy. The economy is the best it has been in decades. Go figure.

But for all the negative news surrounding the Democrats, no one should be jumping to conclusions. In hypothetical matchups most of the candidates still beat Mr. Trump, the nation’s divider.

Billion-dollar man Michael Bloomberg wasn’t present in Iowa or New Hampshire, but he was surely enjoying the show: the fall of Joe, the slide of Ms. Warren, the sense that the party, in the end, would find Sanders-styled socialism too much of a risk.

Mr. Bloomberg’s waiting-game strategy is looking inspired. He lacks support in the black community but other candidates have the same problem. That demographic is supposed to be Joe Biden’s great strength. Should his collapse continue – should Joe Biden become Joe Palooka – it won’t matter.

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