Home » Rep. Dean Phillips Vows To March On After New Hampshire Democratic Primary

Rep. Dean Phillips Vows To March On After New Hampshire Democratic Primary

MANCHESTER, N.H. ― As early results showed him breaking the 20% marker he had set for himself, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) celebrated with supporters on Tuesday night and promised to continue his campaign full-steam ahead.

Phillips conceded that President Joe Biden had won New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary, though the sitting president wasn’t actually on the ballot. (Biden’s supporters in the state launched a successful campaign to convince voters to write him in.)

But in his remarks to a few dozen supporters at the Millyard Museum, Phillips insisted that the performance of his campaign in the state, after it officially launched in late October, validated his view that Biden cannot defeat former President Donald Trump in November.

“Congratulations to President Biden, who absolutely won tonight, but by no means in a way that a strong incumbent president should,” he said, after walking onstage to the song “Taking It to the Streets.”

“Joe Biden is a good man. He is a fine man ― yes, he is, everybody. He’s our president,” Phillips said, seeking to quiet the boos of a couple of Trump-supporting hecklers. “But I gotta tell you, everyone, he cannot win. The polls are saying he cannot win, his approval numbers are saying he can’t win. And the fact that an unknown congressman from Minnesota … said, ‘I’m going to come up here and run for president,’ just got 21% ― that says something too, my friends.”

Phillips also argued that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s loss to Trump in New Hampshire’s Republican primary further cemented the rationale for continuing his campaign.

“This was the one state they thought, maybe if it happened here, maybe it could happen,” he said of Haley’s hopes of victory.

“It didn’t happen, my friends,” Phillips went on. “I’m the only one who’s gonna stand in the way of that man.”

Other Democrats take issue with Phillips’ pessimism about Biden. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a colleague of Phillips’ in the House, was in New Hampshire on Monday to campaign for the Biden write-in effort.

“Polls, 10 months out, are pretty meaningless,” said Khanna, who said he would feel nervous about Biden if his numbers remain sluggish after he accepts the nomination in June.

Phillips had laid out the 20% support as his threshold for success in New Hampshire on the dubious basis that the two previous incumbent Democratic presidents had received more than 80% of the vote in New Hampshire during their reelection bids. Unlike then-Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, however, Biden was not on the ballot. He is boycotting the state as punishment for its defiance of a change in the Democratic presidential primary schedule.

Although New Hampshire does not count for any convention delegates that could deliver him the Democratic presidential nomination, and Phillips’ defeat is not what an ordinary candidate would consider a triumph, meeting the standard he set for himself spares him an embarrassing performance that would have severely undermined the rationale for his campaign.

The coming states in the Democratic primary schedule hold more peril than promise for Phillips. South Carolina, which hosts the first officially-sanctioned Democratic primary on Feb. 3, is a stronghold of Biden support. And Phillips missed the deadline to qualify for the Nevada primary on Feb. 6. (Phillips’ campaign believes that Michigan’s primary on Feb. 27 provides the greatest opportunity for Phillips to make a splash.)

Robert Schwartz, who co-founded PrimaryPivot ― a liberal pop-up group designed to encourage Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to vote for Haley in states with open primary contests ― derided Phillips’ campaign as an exercise in futility that would invariably flame out in South Carolina.

The Phillips campaign is “asking Democratic voters here to embarrass Joe Biden,” he said on Monday. “Democratic voters don’t want to embarrass Joe Biden, they want to embarrass Donald Trump.”

Phillips, an heir to a distillery fortune and former chairman of the gelato company Talenti, took full advantage of Biden’s absence from New Hampshire and the resentment it had instilled in local Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents. His election night party on Tuesday featured “missing” posters with a view of Biden’s back turned and the URL to a Phillips campaign webpage, NotInNewHampshire.com. His exit music onstage is comedian Bo Burnham’s 2020 song, “Joe Biden,” which laments the Biden-Trump choice with the refrain, “You’re really going to make me vote for Joe Biden.”

But Phillips, a self-styled moderate and member of the business-friendly New Democrat Coalition, is also running on a proactive, progressive agenda that goes further than what Biden ran on. He promises to cap all prescription drug prices at their levels in similar developed nations; create a Medicare for All program that would still allow for private coverage; and reach policy goals like an end to homelessness and debt-free college.

The principal obstacle to achieving those promises is a campaign finance system that sanctions corruption, contended Phillips, who has forsworn PAC and lobbyist donations. The principal obstacle to achieving those promises is a campaign finance system that sanctions corruption, contended Phillips, who has forsworn PAC and lobbyist donations.

“Why are we a country that has legalized corruption where you can give me $5,000 in an envelope at a steak house in Washington, and then when I’m sitting in my congressional seat in a committee of jurisdiction over your enterprise, you look me right in the eye and wink?” he asked.

At the same time, Phillips leavens his bold proposals with paeans to bipartisan comity. And he points to his willingness to defy his party leaders with an unsanctioned presidential run as proof of his independence. It can’t hurt that Phillips is Minnesota Nice, sprinkling his speech with phrases like “my goodness” and “gosh.” He got a chance to demonstrate that positive approach with a heckler in the crowd wearing a Trump hat.

“I have a great deal of animus towards the man whose name is on that hat, but I have none towards you,” he said. “And I mean, that my friend, and that’s the kind of leader I’m going to be I’m going to, I’m going to lead with invocation not confrontation.”

Phillips’ even modest success in New Hampshire is almost certainly the product of the unusual circumstances that led Biden to suspend his formal participation in the 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 Biden refused to compete there.

Some New Hampshire Democrats nonetheless mounted a campaign to get voters to write in Biden. These Democrats saw an opportunity to both 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.

“When it became clear that the Democratic National Committee was going to make a stupid decision about the primary schedule, we felt that because it was a state law, we were going to have a primary,” said New Hampshire state Sen. David Watters, a leader of Granite State Write-In, the grassroots arm of the write-in campaign. “We also felt that it was incredibly important for Democrats to show their support for democracy, because that’s what’s at stake in this election.”

The write-in campaign also had big money support. Kathy Sullivan, a former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, was a critical part of a sophisticated campaign to get New Hampshire voters to write Biden in as a candidate in spite of his absence on the ballot. She ran Granite for America, a super PAC that 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.

Spending his own wealth to air TV ads and criss-cross the state, however, Phillips struck a chord with many registered Democrats and independents worried about Biden’s ability to defeat Trump.

Katherine Harake, a candidate for New Hampshire’s Executive Council who came out to see Phillips in Hampton on Sunday, said she respected Phillips’ “bravery” for challenging Biden, and sees him as a better candidate to win against Trump.

“Right now, the data is showing that the people don’t want a Trump-Biden rematch. And I’m data-driven,” she said.

William Aniello, an internet installation technician from Goffstown, told HuffPost at Phillips’ election night event that he was backing Phillips because of the candidate’s apparent distance from the two-party establishment and his commitment to curbing the power of Big Pharma.

“He sees people first. He doesn’t need the corporations to make all the money,” Aniello said.

Aniello, an independent who was sporting a purple-on-gray Forward Party hoodie, had voted for Biden in 2020, but felt that his steps to lower drug prices were inadequate. If Phillips falls short, he plans to vote for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., he said.

“He’s on that same humanity-first kind of roll,” Aniello said.


January 2024