DOVER, N.H. ― President Joe Biden won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday, securing a symbolic victory in spite of his absence from the ballot and the state’s irrelevance to the official nominating process.
Enough New Hampshirites wrote in Biden’s name on the ballot for him to triumph over U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), self-help author Marianne Williamson, and 19 other contenders who took advantage of the ease with which candidates can qualify for the presidential ballot in the Granite State.
The outcome meets the marker set by Biden’s allies in the state, who mounted both a grassroots campaign to write him in, and ran a super PAC to advertise the effort to voters.
“A win is a win,” Aaron Jacobs, a veteran Democratic strategist advising Granite State Write-In, the grassroots arm of the write-in campaign, told HuffPost at a write-in event in Dover on Sunday. “If he wins his primary without even being on the ballot, that’ll be a really impressive feat. Winning a write-in campaign is a really hard thing to do.”
Biden did not campaign in New Hampshire or appear on the ballot in keeping with the Democratic National Committee’s decision to punish the state for refusing to change the date of its Democratic presidential primary.
At Biden’s direction, the DNC had made South Carolina ― a more racially diverse state and home to top Biden ally, Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn ― the first contest on the Democratic schedule.
But New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled state government refused to change the state law codifying the state’s first-in-the-nation (FITN) status. It’s not clear how differently a Democrat-controlled state government would have acted; New Hampshire Democrats remain furious about the DNC’s decision as well.
As a result, the DNC stripped the state of its convention delegates and threatened to punish any presidential candidates who campaign there.
With the Democratic primary slated to occur anyway, however, local Democrats erected a campaign to write Biden in and deliver him a victory in absentia. They saw an opportunity to show support for Biden, and perhaps ingratiate themselves with the president enough to get him to restore their place in the primary schedule ahead of the 2028 nominating contest.
“It’s in state statute that we’re going to have the first-in-the-nation primary, whether the DNC approves of it or not,” Matt Wilhelm, Democratic leader in the New Hampshire state House of Representatives, told HuffPost at the write-in event in Dover. “And so we need to continue to make our case as a state that we’ve got a robust participation right now that folks show up to vote and people want to be a part of our democracy. That’s just a big part of the civic tradition here.”
Phillips’ investment of significant resources in the state made the task that much more urgent for Biden allies hoping to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
Phillips even responded to the write-in campaign by accusing Biden of “writing off” the state.
“I don’t know about you, I think if you run for president, you should show up and face the voters, and walk through the snow and see the press and answer questions and do debates and do town halls,” Phillips said at a packed meet-and-greet event in Hampton on Sunday.
Phillips’ allies, including former presidential candidate Andrew Yang, argued that anything short of an 80% win for Biden should shake confidence in the president, since the two previous incumbent Democratic presidents won at least that share of the vote.
Asked by a voter whether that was a fair comparison since unlike his predecessors, Biden is not on the ballot, Yang responded by asking, “And whose fault is that? Whose fault is that?”
New Hampshire Democrats are also hoping to take control of the governorship and the state legislature in November. The state’s Democrats have historically used the presidential primary as an opportunity to recruit state legislative candidates, according to Wilhelm. He noted that the recruiting task is especially tall in New Hampshire since the state House has 400 members.
“Nothing will take the place of having a really robust, open primary like we had four years ago.”
– Matt Wilhelm, Democratic leader, New Hampshire state House of Representatives
“Nothing will take the place of having a really robust, open primary like we had four years ago,” Wilhelm said.
While the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s policy of neutrality in primaries bars it from being involved with the write-in campaign, it is likewise pleased that the campaign is activating the state’s Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents.
“The DNC’s decision to try and move New Hampshire’s FITN status has only fueled the Democratic activists in the state,” New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said in a statement. “Hundreds of volunteers have been active in the Write In campaign and other candidates campaigns. New Hampshire will continue to follow its state law in 2028 and hold its primary first.”
Of course, the write-in campaign was not all salt-of-the-earth grassroots organizing. The initiative got some high-profile help. An array of elected Democrats, including Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and Rep. Ro Khanna of California, visited New Hampshire from out of state to campaign for the write-in effort.
More importantly still, former NHDP Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan ran Granite for America, a super PAC promoting the write-in effort. Thanks to the support of high-dollar donors, the super PAC spent about $1.5 million on direct mail items, paid phone-banking, and digital and radio advertisements. Much of that material explained to voters where and how to fill in the write-in circle at the bottom of the ballot.
Michelle Supry, a nonprofit worker in Concord, told HuffPost on Tuesday that she had been planning to write Biden in long before the campaign arose.
“I just feel like there needs to be a message, a very decisive message,” Supry said, citing her fears about the implications of a second Trump term for abortion rights and democracy. “We can’t be pussyfooting around right now. Democrats have to get their shit together.”
Asked about Phillips, Supry said, “The way that this country is set up right now, this battle is set for Joe Biden and Donald Trump.”