“Phillips is considering a New Hampshire presidential primary run. Here’s how he could beat Biden.”
That was the headline on a Tuesday story at a left-leaning Minnesota news outlet, a headline that likely has Granite State voters asking, “Who’s ‘Phillips?’”
That would be Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a self-declared moderate who made headlines last year when he publicly declared Biden is too old for the job and urged the party to find another candidate.
Today, Biden is a year older, and no well-known Democrats have entered the race. Now Phillips says he is considering getting into the race and has even discussed the idea with New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Ray Buckley.
“I called Chairman Buckley to introduce myself as I contemplate entering the Democratic primary,” Phillips told the MinnPost. “It was a very friendly conversation.”
“I reminded him the deadline is the 27th for New Hampshire, and once he files, he can’t get his name off the ballot if he changes his mind,” Buckley told Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser.
Buckley said he also told Phillips that “both polling and grassroots interactions in New Hampshire reveal a high level of support for President Biden among the likely voters. It would be a tough challenge for Phillips or anyone. But sure, c’mon on up!”
Veteran Democratic strategist Jim Demers also sees a lot of support for Biden among Granite State Democrats.
“There are a lot of us who strongly support President Biden, we support his agenda, and we want to make sure that he gets reelected,” he told USA Today.
But is Biden truly popular among local Democrats? Or is he just benefitting from party loyalty and perhaps a fear that challenging Biden could lead to electing Trump? That appears to be Rep. Annie Kuster’s take.
“I think it’s the best thing Donald Trump could ever ask for,” she told the Minnesota Star-Tribune regarding a possible Phillips primary run. “There’s no path. There’s no outcry. Personally, I think it’s a vanity project by Mr. Phillips, and I think it could do serious damage by emboldening the Trump Republicans.”
So, how popular is Joe Biden with New Hampshire Democrats?
Supporters say there is nobody in the field — or even potential field– of primary challengers who is a serious threat. They point to polls showing Biden consistently holding a massive lead over Robert F. Kennedy Jr., for example, a lead so large Kennedy decided to run as an independent rather than face Biden in the Democratic primary.
“Incumbency smooths out many concerns Biden’s supporters may have. They want to win, and incumbency is an advantage,” said Dr. Wayne Lesperance, political science professor and president of New England College. “And to be seen as serious, any alternative to an incumbent would have to have unlimited funds, universally high and positive name ID, and a built-in base of support. There just isn’t anyone on the Dem side who fits that bill who is testing the waters.
“The speculation of an alternative is fun for us political geeks, but it’s just for fun,” Lesperance added.
Biden’s critics start with the obvious when evaluating his popularity among Granite State Democrats: He lost the 2020 primary — badly.
“He lost to a mayor. From Indiana,” one Granite State Democrat told NHJournal, referencing the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg, who finished second in the primary, behind Sen. Bernie Sanders but well ahead of fifth-place Biden.
In last month’s CNN/UNH New Hampshire poll, just 68 percent of likely Democratic primary voters had a favorable opinion of Biden. Among self-identified Democrats (as opposed to unaffiliated or independent voters), his favorables were a lukewarm 73 percent. These aren’t rock-star numbers. Around this point in his presidency, UNH found President Barack Obama had an 85 percent favorable rating among Granite State Democrats.
Asked if they would like to see another candidate enter the Democratic primary to challenge Biden, only 35 percent of New Hampshire said “no.” Only 36 percent said yes, but it’s hardly a rousing endorsement. Perhaps that’s because just half of the state’s Democrats believe he’s “definitely” mentally and physically fit enough for the job of president.
In a St. Anselm College Survey Center poll this summer, 50 percent of Democrats admitted they were concerned about Biden’s age.
And if President Joe Biden really is so popular with Democrats, how many plan to campaign with him in next fall’s election? Will it be the same number as in the 2022 campaign? (That would be “none.”)
UNH political science professor Dante Scala acknowledged Biden is hardly setting his party’s base on fire but added he believes Granite State Democrats have embraced him.
“New Hampshire Democrats have never been thrilled with Joe Biden, but they are comfortable enough (despite their concerns about his age),” Scala said.
“He’s an old shoe, but he’s their old shoe.”