Former New Hampshire Speaker of the House Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook), who co-chaired Joe Biden’s 2020 Granite State campaign, announced Tuesday he’s endorsing Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) in the First in the Nation primary.

“Because of the New Hampshire primary, that is my prime reason for supporting the congressman,” Shurtleff told WGIR radio host Chris Ryan. “For 100 years now, we’ve done the New Hampshire primary right.”

Back in January, Shurtleff said publicly that if Biden allowed the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to take away the state’s First in the Nation status, he would consider endorsing someone else in the 2024 contest. On Tuesday, Shurtleff was good to his word.

Former NH Democratic Speaker of the House Steve Shurtleff

Shurtleff was also dismissive of claims by Biden backers like former state Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan that Biden was kept off the New Hampshire ballot by the DNC. Instead, he laid responsibility for Biden’s absence directly at the president’s feet.

“What the president and the DNC have done is to say ‘Thank you, New Hampshire, we’re going to push you aside now and give the primary to South Carolina because we don’t think you have a diverse enough population,’” Shurtleff said. “It’s just so inappropriate. This primary works.”

Asked about Shurtleff’s endorsement, Phillips told NHJournal, “I’m very grateful.”

NHJournal also asked Phillips about claims by Sullivan, who’s heading up the Biden write-in campaign, that the incumbent president is “the underdog” in the New Hampshire primary.

“I think that if someone considers President Biden the underdog in this contest, that might be part of the problem,” Phillips said.

As for the claim from the write-in organization and Biden himself that the president “wishes to participate in the primary” but was blocked by the DNC, Phillips dismissed that as “nonsensical.”

“I think that’s kind of like starting a fire and then taking credit for putting it out, as most Americans would probably say. I think that’s nonsensical, to be forthright and respectful. That’s not true.”

Phillips also echoed Shurtleff regarding the dismissal of New Hampshire Democrats because they are “too white.” The Minnesota Democrat has been attacked for campaigning in the Granite State by some Black Democrats, including Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)

Clyburn has called Phillips’ decision to participate in the First in the Nation primary disrespectful to Black voters.

“The Minnesota congressman is not respecting the wishes of the titular head of our Party and the loyalties of some of our Party’s most reliable constituents,” Clyburn told The Messenger. “Black voters are an essential piece of the Democratic coalition, and any candidate for President of the United States ought to know and respect their pivotal role in how Democrats win national elections.”

Phillips said Tuesday he was “disappointed” by Clyburn’s comments.

Rep. Dean Phillips talks to the press after a speech at the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. (CREDIT: Andrew Dow, New England College)

“Mr. Clyburn, a man I admire and respect, knows better. And that’s exactly the political conversation that is dividing the country right now,” Phillips said. “All I’m doing is appearing in a great American state that has a 103-year-old tradition of assessing candidates first. That’s not precluding me from getting to South Carolina or Michigan or anywhere else in the country.”

Mississippi U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, also a member of the Black Caucus, also said that a Democrat campaigning for president in New Hampshire is “disrespectful to voters of color.”

“By bucking South Carolina to compete in a state that will offer zero delegates and does not reflect our party’s diversity, the Congressman from Minnesota is sending a clear message: He either does not know or does not care about the political power of Black voters.”

This racial rhetoric is a sign of the impact years of unanswered attacks on the New Hampshire electorate have had on how the state is viewed in the Democratic Party. It’s also a sign of the uphill battle Granite State Democrats will face in 2028 (and beyond) attempting to claw back their place at the front of the line.

During a meeting with reporters regarding the New Hampshire primary last week, Secretary of State David Scanlan said the attacks on the primary are likely to continue, in part because of the success of the “too white” argument within the Democratic Party.

Phillips has pledged that, if his longshot White House bid is a success, he will restore New Hampshire’s official First in the Nation status.

“I’m going to remind this country how important New Hamshire is in presidential politics,” Phillips said.

In a statement after the announcement, Shurtleff urged his “friends and colleagues to join me.”

“We are at a critical moment in the history of our country. It’s time for a new generation of leadership, and Dean is ready to take the helm right now,” Shurtleff said.