Democrat Representative Dean Phillips Announces Primary Challenge to Biden — Says Dems Need to Focus on Future

For several months, Dean Phillips called for a challenger to President Joe Biden in the Democratic presidential primary, drawing no public interest from legislators, governors, and other possible alternatives.

The 54-year-old congressman from Minnesota finally entered the race himself on Friday during an event outside the statehouse in New Hampshire, saying, “It is time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of American leaders.”

Phillips is unlikely to beat Biden, but his run offers a symbolic challenge to national Democrats who continue to project the idea that there is no reason to doubt the electability of Biden, even while Americans question if the 80-year-old Biden should serve another term.

In his speech, Rep. Phillips said he would try to fix the economy and warned about high prices and “the chaos at our border — issues that are potential vulnerabilities for the president as he heads into a likely rematch against former President Donald Trump, the GOP frontrunner. Phillips is trying to engage Democrats in New Hampshire who are angry at Biden for diluting the state’s influence in the 2024 Democratic primary calendar and noted the state had historically been “first to vet presidential candidates like me.”

President Biden continues to tout himself as uniquely qualified to beat Trump

President Biden continues to tout himself as uniquely qualified to beat Trump following his 2020 win. Top Democrats have lined up behind him, positioning themselves for possible future primary runs.

Biden’s reelection campaign issued a statement Friday saying it was “hard at work mobilizing the winning coalition that President Biden can uniquely bring together” to defeat Trump.

Although President Biden won’t officially run in the New Hampshire primary and will rely on a write-in campaign, the president plans to head to Phillips’ homes state next week for a fundraiser and an official event.

Representative Phillips has already missed the deadline to enter Nevada’s primary and is relatively unknown nationally. His campaign account on X, formerly known as Twitter, was suspended briefly Friday before his launch. Shortly before Phillips spoke, the leader of his home state signed a fundraising pitch sent by the Biden campaign.

“You know, I have to say this about Minnesota: it’s a great state, full of great people. And sometimes they do crazy things,” wrote Governor of Minnesota, Tim Walz, who added, “And sometimes…they make political side shows for themselves.”

Mayor of Atlanta, Andre Dickens, who sits on the reelection campaign’s national advisory board for Biden, dubbed Phillips’ bid an “attention-seeking stunt that is deeply insulting to Black voters and the coalition that save our country from Donald Trump.”

“The stakes are too high in this election — especially for Black voters,” said Dickens, to focus on a “vanity project rather than what’s best for our party and our country.”

However, New Hampshire’s primary challenges have a long history of wounding incumbent presidents.

In 1968, Democrat Senator Eugene McCarthy, also from Minnesota, built his campaign around opposing the Vietnam War. He came in second in the New Hampshire primary, helping push President Lyndon Johnson into foregoing a second term. 

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy’s challenge of President Jimmy Carter and Patrick Buchanan’s run against President George H.W. Bush failed, but Carter and Bush ultimately lost their reelection bids. 

The influence of the state on Democrats was also curtailed this year by changes the Democratic National Committee engineered at the behest of Biden and was meant to empower minority and Black voters better.

The new Democratic calendar has South Carolina leading off presidential primary voting on February 3, with Nevada voting three days later. New Hampshire has refused to comply and cited state laws saying its primary must be first and plans a primary before South Carolina’s. The DNC could then strip the state of its nominating delegates.

Former speaker of the New Hampshire House, Steve Shurtleff, believes Phillips might appeal to some independents and Democrats who can choose to vote in the primary.

“I’m disappointed that he and the DNC have tried to take away our primary,” said Shurtleff. “It’s not that I want to see Joe lose. It’s that I want to see our primary win.”

However, Terry Shumaker, former DNC member from New Hampshire and longtime supporter of Biden, said he expects the president to clinch the state as a write-in option easily. Shumaker recalled going door-to-door for McCarthy in 1968 but says he doesn’t see Phillips gaining similar traction. 

“I’m not aware of what his message is,” said Shumaker. “To do well in the New Hampshire primary, you have to have a message.”

There are no Democratic primary debates currently scheduled. The only other Democrat running in the 2024 primary is self-help author Marianne Williamson.

Rep. Phillips is the heir to his stepfather’s Phillips Distilling Company. He once served as the company’s president and ran the Talenti gelato maker. His grandmother was the late Pauline Phillips, well-known as the advice columnist “Dear Abby.”

Driving a gelato truck became the centerpiece of his first campaign for the House in 2018 when Phillips unseated five-term GOP Representative Erik Paulsen. While his district, located in primarily affluent greater Minneapolis, has become more Democratic-leaning, Phillips has stressed he is a moderate focused on his suburban constituents.

An AP-NORC poll released in August found the top words associated with President Biden were “old” and “confused.” Almost 70% of Democrats and 77% of U.S. adults said he was too old to be effective for four more years. The same poll found respondents most frequently described Trump as “dishonest” and “corrupt.”