Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden addresses the crowd during a South Carolina campaign launch party on February 11, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina. AFP

JoeBidenis heading south, in more ways than one.

Once the confident frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, Americas centrist senior statesman meant to invigorate his partys effort to oust Donald Trump and reclaim the White House.

But the electability candidate, the one who insists he has the best chance at defeating Trump in November, has seen his political fortunes plunge in a single week.

After what he called a gut punch of a fourth-place finish in the opening contest in Iowa, on Tuesday he faced a second straight drubbing, on track for a shock fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, early results showed.

The former vice president saw the writing on the wall and abruptly scrapped plans to spend the primary night in New Hampshire, jetting to his stronghold of South Carolina, where a diverse Democratic electorate votes later this month.

With the rise of leftist Bernie Sanders, a senator from neighbouring Vermont, Bidenfaced a severe uphill climb in New Hampshire.

But in an embarrassing turn, the 77-year-oldBidenwas also beaten by Pete Buttigieg, a moderate former small-city mayor less than half his age, and pragmatist Senator Amy Klobuchar. Senator Elizabeth Warren was eclipsing him too.

No one in the modern history of the Democratic nominating process has performed so poorly in the first two statewide contests and gone on to win the nomination.

The haemorrhaging of support is coast to coast. A Monmouth University poll released Tuesday shows Bidens nationwide score dropping by nearly half, from 30 per cent before Iowas caucuses to 16 per cent this week.

In the RealClearPolitics aggregate of recent nationwide polls,Biden has now relinquished the top spot that he has held for more than a year, with Sanders at 23 per cent andBiden at 20.4 per cent.

I dont know that Ive seen a sadder week in a campaign than JoeBidens in New Hampshire, political science professor Dante Scala, of the University of New Hampshire, told AFP.

Voters liked JoeBidenwell enough, but there was no measure of devotion, he added. So when he disappointed in Iowa, they went shopping for other candidates.

Come on, man!

It all marks a stunning decline for the party establishment favourite who is deeply respected among Democrats for his eight years as wingman to popular president Barack Obama.

Bidenhas argued credibly that neither Iowa nor New Hampshire, whiter and other than most of the other 48 states, is a good barometer for the Democratic race and the partys electorate.

But bouncing back from a double disaster will take remarkable persistence and focus.

His campaign energy has come under scrutiny. He spent Thursday huddling with advisors instead of earning votes. He has stumbled on the trail, often responding to questions with Come on, man!

In the last debate, he conceded he would lose New Hampshire, violating the unwritten rule of eternal optimism.

And he recently lashed out at a voter who questioned him, calling her a lying dog-faced pony soldier.

Biden, speaking Tuesday from South Carolina where he sought refuge from his New Hampshire beating, insisted he was still in the game, saying the first two states signalled the opening bell of the race.

Two of them. Not all the nation, not half the nation, not a quarter of the nation, not 10 per cent, he said, adding he still wanted the most committed constituency in the Democratic Party, African Americans, to weigh in at the ballot box.