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Democrat Phillips launches primary challenge to Biden by filing for New Hampshire ballot

Dean Phillips speaks with reporters after filing for New Hampshire primary
Josh Rogers
Dean Phillips speaks with reporters in the Secretary of State office after filing for New Hampshire primary, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023.

Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips is a political moderate who has been fully supportive of President Biden's policies over the past three years. But in his first appearance in New Hampshire as a presidential candidate, Phillips, a 54-year-old Democrat, told reporters that he's running against Biden because he thinks he can reach what he termed the “exhausted majority” of Americans, who are sick of unnecessary political division.

"I'm doing this because I am listening to people all around the country who are saying they want a change,” Phillips said, moments after signing the paperwork with the New Hampshire secretary of state needed to get his name on the state’s primary ballot. “They want a new generation, that it’s time to go to the future.”

Afterwards, Phillips held a rally outside the State House, where TV cameras and campaign staff appeared to outnumber New Hampshire voters.

“I invite you to join me in declaring a new American independence,” Phillips implored from a podium in front of a gleaming campaign bus that bore his first name in bold letters.

Phillips’ entry into the race here comes days after Biden announced he would not be appearing on the New Hampshire primary ballot That's because the Democratic National Committee has picked South Carolina to hold the first primary in 2024; any states holding primaries ahead of that will be deemed scofflaws by the national party.

Phillips made clear on Friday that’s one area where he and Biden disagree. He said New Hampshire's first in the nation primary has served the county well, and it's a tradition that should be maintained.

“There is a culture or participation,” Phillips said. “You have a history, a tradition, an imperative of assessing presidential candidates. I am a Democrat who believes in tradition.”

Success in this race will take more than belief.

Top Democrats here and across the country are working to get Biden reelected. His campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised more $70 million towards that end in the last quarter alone.

But Biden’s New Hampshire supporters do face some headwinds here. With the president's name not appearing on the state's primary ballot, top Granite State Democrats are working to organize a write-in campaign to ensure Biden isn’t embarrassed with a primary loss — or even a less-than-overwhelming victory — in New Hampshire. Even though the national Democratic Party is not recognizing New Hampshire’s primary this cycle, the result here will almost certainly be noted far and wide by voters around the country.

For Phillips, there are logistical challenges of his own: Getting on the ballot in states other than New Hampshire, for instance.

He’s already missed the deadline to qualify in Nevada, another state near the head of the DNC’s nominating schedule.

But the mechanics of actually winning were not an obvious focus for Phillips on this day, which was mostly about introducing himself. And Phillips, whose family has made millions manufacturing liquor and gelato, was in good cheer from the moment he arrived in Concord.

“I went to camp in the White Mountains; North Conway was my second home as a kid. I canoed on the Saco River. I climbed Mt. Washington,” he noted. “And I need me a Whoopie Pie.”

Some who turned out to see Phillips on his campaign’s first day said they were just curious. Others indicated they were out to enjoy the mild autumn weather. But some did arrive with real purpose.

“I have an interest in finding somebody new to motivate the country,” said Dan Kipphud of Concord.

A self-described independent who mostly backs Democrats, Kipphud said he’d only learned about Phillips the night before, via an automated phone message. But after hearing Phillips speak on the State House plaza, he was holding a campaign sign.

“This was a good introduction,” Kipphud said. “I'm hoping this turns into something that’s really great.”

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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