MANCHESTER, N.H. — Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. made his presidential withdrawal announcement in Washington, but it is in the campaign trenches in Iowa and New Hampshire--sites of 1988's first key tests--that the shock waves are being felt the strongest.
"I still haven't worked this thing through in my mind," said a dazed Biden aide, Eric Andrus, 26, as he stood Wednesday amid the precinct maps, boxes of bumper strips and high-tech office equipment in Biden's New Hampshire headquarters.
Scramble for Souvenirs
Visitors scrambled morbidly for Biden campaign buttons--instant souvenirs.
Minutes earlier, Andrus, the press secretary for the state campaign, had stood somberly with the 15 other paid staff members, including campaign director Anne Lewis, and watched as their candidate hit the ejection button with a short statement before the TV cameras in Washington.
More than 1,000 miles away, at the Biden headquarters in Des Moines, other Biden staff members also were gathered around the TV, according to Biden's Iowa press secretary, Eric Woolson.
"I am disappointed Joe got out of the race," Woolson said in a telephone interview. "It clearly looked rougher for us (since the damaging disclosures about Biden in the press) but we think, if he had had eight days to come out here and campaign in person, he could have turned it around. But because of the (Robert H.) Bork (Supreme Court confirmation) hearings, he did not have that luxury. He had to make a choice, and I think he did it with some class."
Woolson, a 27-year-old former journalist, said he and the 30 other paid Biden staff members in Iowa did not know what they would do now. Many of the other campaigns in Iowa have already filled choice positions.
One Iowa source, who requested anonymity, said the campaigns that could most easily absorb the top Biden staff members are those of Illinois Sen. Paul Simon and Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore Jr., neither of whom has yet put together the huge operations typical of other candidates in the race.
Biden campaign workers in both Iowa and New Hampshire might also land top jobs in the not-yet-formally-declared campaigns of the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Colorado Rep. Patricia Schroeder.
New Hampshire Democratic Chairman J. Joseph Grandmaison said: "Biden had signed up an impressive group of New Hampshire officials for his campaign. But, while you will no doubt see a lot of the Biden paid staff and volunteers going to work now in other campaigns, I do not think the big names backing him here will make any immediate moves. They are prized supporters, and I think they will bide their time for awhile."
As for the average voter in New Hampshire, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis is still leading heavily in early polls while Biden was barely into double digits.
Woolson said the Iowa office would be closed within two weeks and that national campaign officials had assured him that everyone would receive two more paychecks.
"They are really concerned about all of us," Woolson said.
In New Hampshire, Andrus answered reporters' questions after other staff members had fled from the headquarters in shock and sadness.
Near Andrus were the signs of better times in the Biden campaign--a recent headline in the Boston Globe that said, "Joe Biden's Campaign Shows Dazzle in New Hampshire," and huge black and white photos of a smiling Biden with his wife and three children.