Rep. Dean Phillips challenges Biden in 2024 Democratic primary. Why he's running

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Concord, N.H. – Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips is challenging the leader of his party, President Joe Biden, in the 2024 presidential race and faces long odds.

But he was undeterred by the challenges he faces in trying to unseat an incumbent.

"This is a country of longshots," Phillips said Friday morning at the statehouse in Concord, N.H.

The moderate third-term congressman from Minnesota, who left his Democratic leadership post earlier this month, made his candidacy official during an interview with CBS News. Phillips plans to hold an official launch rally at 11:30 a.m. Friday in New Hampshire, after filing to appear on the state's primary ballot.

Though he's in the northeast Friday morning, Phillips said he plans to make the southern border one of the key issues in his campaign. It's also a key issue that has garnered much criticism for Biden.

"Having been to the southern border twice, it is not secure. It is inhumane," Phillips said Friday morning in New Hampshire.

But he mixes those assessments with some praise for Biden, who Phillips said has done a great job for the country.

He does share the concerns of voters across the country who worry about Biden's age. Phillips, 54, has for months encouraged someone with established credentials to run against Biden, 80, arguing that a younger Democratic alternative was needed. But after better-known Democrats passed, Phillips moved to make a last-minute bid for the party’s presidential nomination.

If Phillips doesn't win, he said he would support the Democratic nominee − even if it's the president he's trying to unseat.

“I think it's terribly important that a Democrat win this election, and I will do anything, I will give everything I have every moment of my time, every ounce of my energy to ensure that that nominee, whether it be me, of course, President Biden or somebody else becomes president," he said.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) attends a news conference on Iran negotiations on Capitol Hill, April 6, 2022, in Washington, DC.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) attends a news conference on Iran negotiations on Capitol Hill, April 6, 2022, in Washington, DC.

'Run like a business'

A majority of the three dozen Phillips supporters mingling outside of the New Hampshire statehouse at his rally Friday were volunteers and staff for the campaign.Several residents in the area and vacationers who had heard about the rally on the news also stopped to listen to Phillips’ short address. But few had heard of him before Friday.Sherri Rossignol, 52, and her husband traveled to New England from Florida, and they were drawn to attend the Phillips rally in Concord because of his moderate reputation and background as a businessman. Business experience is one of the main reasons they also like former President Donald Trump.

“I think this country needs to be run like a business. We’re getting into actual debt,” Rossignol said.The economy is top of mind for her this election season, particularly in terms of reducing inflation.“I think everybody's pocketbooks are getting hit. It’s hard to make your dollar stretch,” she said.As for Phillips, Rossignol is keeping an open mind but wasn’t convinced by his speech Friday.“I need to read up more and look at his website to see where he stands on the issues,” she said after his speech.

Biden touts '100 percent support'

The Democratic National Committee does not plan to have primary debates in 2024, with an incumbent president on the ballot, and is operating as an extension of the Biden campaign.

He has already missed the filing deadline in Nevada, which has an early contest, and he will not be eligible to receive delegates in New Hampshire if he submits the paperwork to appear on that state’s primary ballot.

Phillips will also face the wrath of Democrats who would rather focus on winning the general election than fighting a messy intraparty war.

In anticipation of Phillips’ announcement, Democrats backing Biden’s reelection bid began pointing out the congressman has supported the president and his positions 100 percent of the time since he entered the White House.

Biden’s reelection team did not immediately comment. But the White House, which typically sidesteps election-related questions, used the line against Phillips this week.

“One thing I would say outside of that is we appreciate the congressman almost 100 — 100 percent support of this president as we — as he’s moved forward with some really important, key legislative priorities for the American people,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Speculation about a possible Phillips campaign for president has percolated for months and heightened after he resigned as co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee at the beginning of October.

A request by a group linked to his campaign to hold an event at the New Hampshire State Capitol was the first tangible sign Phillips was planning to move forward with a challenge. Earlier this week, a video of a “Dean Phillips for President” campaign bus surfaced on social media, furthering the speculation.

New Hampshire is in a fight with the Democratic Party over the timing of its primary, and Biden’s campaign announced Tuesday that the president would not file to be a candidate there.

The national party voted earlier this year to shake up its primary calendar and strip New Hampshire of its storied first-in-the-nation primary status.

New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlan has insisted the state will go first, regardless. Assuming it does, the DNC emphasized Tuesday it will not allot delegates to any candidate who appears on the ballot.

The candidate with the most delegates at the end of the process will win the party’s nomination.

Self-help author Marianne Williamson is also seeking the Democratic nomination and filed this month in New Hampshire.

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, is filing in New Hampshire to run against President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary. One of his campaign vehicles, the "government repair truck," is shown outside of the statehouse in Concord, N.H.
Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, is filing in New Hampshire to run against President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary. One of his campaign vehicles, the "government repair truck," is shown outside of the statehouse in Concord, N.H.

A third-term moderate with an independent streak

First elected to Congress in 2018, Phillips defeated a six-term incumbent Republican and flipped what was considered a stalwart conservative district. Since then, he’s fostered a reputation in the Capitol as a moderate committed to bipartisanship, joining the leadership of the Problem Solvers Caucus.

After the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker of the house, Phillips floated breaking with his party and striking a deal with Republicans to elect a new leader. He never did, and House Republicans voted to give Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., the gavel on Wednesday after spending three weeks in limbo.

Phillips’ most notable legislative achievement was the passage of the Paycheck Protection Program, which he co-authored with Texas Rep. Chip Roy. The law paid worker salaries and benefits at qualifying small businesses for up to eight weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a candidate, Phillips is expected to tout his background in business. He took over his family company, Phillips Distilling, opened a coffee shop in the Twin Cities and served as chair of Talenti Gelato for four years before he was elected to the House of Representatives.

In the House, Phillips sits on the Ethics and Foreign Affairs committees. He supports aid to Israel and Ukraine, and lauded Biden’s leadership on those issues as recently as last week.

“President Biden issued an outstanding speech this evening, making a strong case for why we must support Ukraine, Israel, and all who seek self-determination, security, and peace. That’s what America does,” Phillips said in a post on the social media platform X, formally known as Twitter, after the president’s Oval Office address.

Challenging an incumbent president

Phillips began calling for a Democratic challenger to Biden over the summer, raising alarm bells about the president's support among Democratic and independent voters.

Specifically, Phillips cited concerns about the incumbent president’s age, arguing that Biden should step aside and let a new generation of leadership take over. More than 35% of Democratic and independent voters said Biden’s age made them less likely to vote for him in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University survey published in June.

Democrats who Phillips put forward as potentially competitive candidates against Biden were afraid to take the leap, he said at the time.

“Nobody is willing to take a step that might harm their future,” Phillips told Jake Tapper during a CNN appearance in August, discussing the reason for his opposition to Biden's 2024 campaign. “This is not about re-election for me. This is about our country, the future of Democracy, and doing anything I possibly can to stop Donald Trump from returning to the White House.”

Historically, modern presidents who fend off primary challengers tend to perform poorly in general elections.

With the exception of former President Richard Nixon, every sitting president since 1969 who has faced a primary opponent has lost the White House, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.

Democrats supporting Biden's presidential bid worry that Phillips' campaign will drive a wedge in the party and make it easier for the GOP nominee to defeat the incumbent president.

"Our country is facing real challenges at home and abroad. We need a steadfast, proven leader who can move our country forward. That leader is Joe Biden, and he has my full support." New Hampshire Rep. Ann Kuster told USA TODAY in response to Phillips announcement.

Biden and former President Donald Trump each had 37% support in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll released this week. Kennedy pulled in 13% support, mostly from voters said they would otherwise support the GOP. Progressive activist Cornel West, who is also running as an independent campaign, drew 4% support, mainly away from Biden.

Biden allies sought to sow doubt about the seriousness of Phillips campaign and zeroed in on the fact that Phillips was making a formal announcement in New Hampshire, where the national party urged candidates not to file this week over the primary date dispute.

"As a Latina Democrat, I am disappointed he did not try to get his name onto the ballot in Nevada. Will he try in South Carolina for that matter?" Maria Cardona, a Democratic strategist and DNC member who helped make the new rules, said in a text. "If he doesn't, do voters of color not matter to him? Is this simply stunt? I think we all know the answer to that question."

A spokesperson for the Phillips campaign declined to comment on whether the Congressman will run in South Carolina but said that he's taking his presidential run "seriously."

The DNC elevated South Carolina to the first primary position, at Biden's request, in order to give voters of color a bigger say in the party's nominating process — even though New Hampshire state law requires it to go first. The Republican secretary of state in New Hampshire has indicated the primary will take place in January, before South Carolina Democrats vote on Feb. 3. Nevada has the next Democratic context on Feb. 6.

South Carolina's filing window opens for Democrats seeking the presidency on Nov. 1 and closes on Nov. 10. The last date candidates could file in Nevada was Oct. 16.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Rep. Dean Phillips challenges President Joe Biden in 2024 primary