SALEM, N.H. — Joe Biden spent two days in New Hampshire without taking any questions from voters at his public events, a striking break from tradition in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
Instead, Biden held two “community events” where he spoke for about 30 minutes each time. Afterward, he took photos and chatted one-on-one with people on the rope line surrounding his podium.
He made no mention of the state’s opioid epidemic, which polls consistently show is the biggest issue facing the state. Voters at the events said they also would have liked to hear about his plans for health care, the cost of prescription drugs and the economy.
Candidates routinely take questions from the public at New Hampshire town halls, a longstanding practice that tests the retail skills of presidential hopefuls and forces them to answer directly to voters' concerns.
Biden’s decision to skip q-and-a's left some people in the audience disappointed. At a packed event at an elementary school in one of the most Republican areas of the state, a number of topics voters said they would have liked to hear about went unaddressed.
Charles Traver, a retired 77-year-old from the Republican-leaning town Atkinson, said he would have raised his hand if he had the chance to ask about economic issues.
“The one thing that I would have liked to have commented on — the economy seems to be doing incredibly well but what I don't know is how much we're mortgaging our future,” Traver said after the event. “And whether mortgaging our future really diminishes the actual improvement in the economy.”
Biden touched on economic issues for about a minute during his town hall Saturday.
“Ladies and gentlemen, President Trump thinks this economy's doing great,” Biden said. “It's doing great for the folks at the very top. They're not all bad folks. But tell me about how great it's doing for the rest of America? Fact of the matter is, 44% of the American people are living on the equivalent of what amounts to about $13 an hour.”
Maria Dutton came to the event to ask him about the cost of prescription drugs.
“I want to ask what's his plan to deal with Big Pharma,” she said beforehand. “Everybody makes promises, but it's ridiculous.”
Biden did not mention the issue. He tangentially talked about health care for less than a minute, reminding voters about his role in passing the Affordable Care Act.
Jim Demers, a longtime Democratic strategist who recently endorsed Biden after his first choice, Sen. Cory Booker, dropped out, met briefly with Biden before the event. He said Biden decided he wants to have face-to-face conversations with people instead of the larger town hall forum.
As Demers spoke, Biden worked the rope line, taking selfies, thanking supporters and briefly answering questions from a student reporter.
Demers said it’s important for Biden to interact directly with people, perhaps more than taking questions from the audience.
“I think for a lot of people they feel more comfortable having a private conversation than raising their issue or something about themselves in front of all the people. So I think it's still a very effective way to communicate,” he said.
The campaign declined to comment.
Biden hasn’t held a press conference in the state since he filed to be on the ballot on Nov. 8. He has done a handful of one-on-one interviews with local media outlets, including one with WMUR-TV, the ABC affiliate in Manchester, to be aired Sunday.
Biden has long limited contact with the press, giving just enough occasional access to reporters to avoid the accusation that he’s completely walled off. Similarly, he historically has taken a few questions at town halls in early states — usually no more than three — because his campaign calculates that voters prefer to see him at the rope line for selfies and handshakes and occasional hugs, and because Biden has demonstrated a longstanding penchant for going off-message in unscripted environments that his handlers want to avoid.
The Biden campaign’s reticence to exposing him to the press has been heightened by the controversy over Trump’s impeachment. Republicans have sought to counterattack by bringing up the overlap between Biden’s handling of U.S. policy in Ukraine while his son landed a lucrative contract with a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Marc Caputo contributed to this report.