Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden visits a polling station on the day of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary in Manchester, New Hampshire U.S.

Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden visits a polling station in Manchester on the day of New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

MANCHESTER — Bowing out on what was expected to be a humbling concession speech, former Vice President Joe Biden boarded a plane for South Carolina even before the polls closed in the New Hampshire presidential primary.

The one-time front runner's campaign said Joe and Jill Biden planned to skip the campaign's primary party in Nashua in favor of a campaign launch in Columbia, S.C., where he planned to livestream a message to supporters in New Hampshire.

“He should have stayed no matter what the outcome was," said New Boston resident David Coan, who stood at a Manchester polling place in support of Biden with four other members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. "Take it on the chin if we don’t win and parade around if we do,” 

“He shouldn’t have left. For me it is not the right thing to do,” said Maurice J. Thibaudeau of Manchester, who also was holding a sign.

Biden finished a disappointing fourth in last week's Iowa caucus and was trailing in New Hampshire polls. On Friday, he acknowledged during a debate at Saint Anselm College that he would take a hit in New Hampshire.

New Hampshire House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff said the former vice president's Iowa showing and debate acknowledgement might have deflated his supporters a little, but they remain behind him.

"The people who know him and respect him, you've done so much for us, the very least we can do is be with you and your campaign until the last vote is counted," said Shurtleff, who endorsed Biden months ago.

Biden told reporters about his plans during a visit to a Manchester doughnut shop on Tuesday.

The abrupt move suggested Biden viewed his fortunes in New Hampshire dimly. His campaign is banking on strong support from black voters — who remember him fondly for his role in Obama's historic presidency — in South Carolina, which votes on Feb. 29.

"We're still mildly hopeful here," Biden said. But he dismissed the idea that South Carolina has become a do-or-die state for his candidacy.

"The rest of the nation is out there," Biden said. "There's an awful lot of electoral votes to be had, and we're going to see."

Shurtleff said Biden struggled to get his message out and should have spent more time with the media.

President Donald Trump's attacks on Hunter and Joe Biden in connection with the president's impeachment trial probably took a personal toll on the candidate, too, Shurtleff said. He noted that the Bidens used to socialize with South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally who ended up attacking Biden.

"That had to hurt," Shurtleff said.

Elizabeth Warren, a progressive who represents Massachusetts in the Senate, told reporters in Nashua that Biden's early departure "says that he's not here to fight for their votes in New Hampshire."

California businessman Tom Steyer also left New Hampshire before the primary. He spent the day campaigning in Nevada, which holds a presidential caucus on Feb. 22.

New Hampshire's primary is the second contest of the U.S. presidential party nominating cycle, providing a scant number of delegates, but giving candidates a chance to build momentum for their campaigns.

Here are some scenes from the campaign trail on Tuesday:

'Hundreds of thousands of doors'

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders thanked a handful of supporters at the polls at McDonough Elementary School in Manchester.

"Our people have knocked on hundreds of thousands of doors in the snow and the rain and the cold, and I think that's why we have a chance to do really, really well here tonight," Sanders told reporters.

"We're gonna beat Donald Trump because to defeat him you’re gonna need the largest voter turnout in the history of this country - that's what you're gonna need," he said.

The Sanders campaign said volunteers knocked on 250,000 doors on Saturday and Sunday. Warren's campaign hit 163,000 from Saturday through Monday. Almost 250,000 people cast ballots in the state's 2016 Democratic primary, which Sanders won before ultimately losing the party's nomination to Hillary Clinton.

Party officials have said they do not expect turnout on Tuesday to match the record set in 2008, the year of Barack Obama's first presidential campaign.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Warren campaigns in Portsmouth

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) greets a young supporter Tuesday at a polling site for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary in Portsmouth’

'More persuasive'

Chris Herbert, 70, a state representative and former Manchester alderman, said he voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary but cast his vote for Warren on Tuesday.

"I think she might be more persuasive," he said, citing her success in setting up the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

But Herbert said he would be happy with Sanders as the nominee over more moderate candidates.

Warren started her day by visiting a polling location in Portsmouth, where she met a group of passionate supporters.

"Warren has a plan for me!" the crowd chanted, as well as, "It's time, it's time, it's time for a woman in the White House!"

Warren handed out doughnuts to volunteers and took photos with voters, as did her husband Bruce Mann and dog Bailey.

Pete Buttigieg, Democratic presidential candidate and former South Bend, Indiana mayor drops by a polling location on primary day in Nashua

Former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg makes a stop at a polling location on primary day in Nashua.

'The one who can beat Trump'

Buttigieg's supporters greeted him at a Manchester school before dawn, waving blue and yellow "Pete 2020" campaign signs and chanting "President Pete."

The 38-year-old military veteran shook hands and took selfies with the enthusiastic crowd.

"It feels good out here," he said, smiling as reporters asked how he thought he would fare in Tuesday's primary.

Kathy Carswell, 60, said she picked Buttigieg for his youth and ability to bring people together.

Some of the older candidates were qualified but had less of a chance than Buttigieg against Trump, she said.

"I think (Buttigieg) can bring the country back together again, instead of separating it," Carswell said.

Rebecca Balzano, a 38-year-old restaurant cook, called Buttigieg "too new, too young" and said she voted for Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist.

Bloomberg microboost

Democratic voters in the state faced a lengthy ballot with 33 names — including top-tier candidates, former hopefuls who have already dropped out of the race and some contenders who never attained a national profile.

One name not on the list was former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a late entrant to the race, who is not on the ballot in the first four contests.

Bloomberg flooded Massachusetts television stations with ads in the lead up to the New Hampshire primary.

Voters in the mountain hamlet of Dixville Notch from picked the billionaire founder of the media company that bears his name as a write-in candidate when they voted just after midnight on Tuesday. He won three of the five ballots cast.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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