New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella is investigating an AI-generated robocall that appears to feature President Joe Biden telling Democrats to skip the First in the Nation presidential primary.
Formella’s office says the calls “appear to be an unlawful attempt to disrupt the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election and to suppress New Hampshire voters.” Gov. Chris Sununu called the messages “voter impression and illegal,” and he said he’s spoken to Formella about prosecuting the responsible parties “to the fullest extent of the law.”
But who is behind the calls? The message doesn’t include a disclaimer. And what is their motive? Are they trying to keep Democrat-leaning unaffiliated voters from voting for Nikki Haley in the Republican primary? Or is the goal to keep registered Democrats at home rather than voting in their own party’s primary, where Biden needs write-in votes to prevent an embarrassing outcome?
“This coming Tuesday is the New Hampshire presidential preference primary. Republicans have been trying to push non-partisan and Democratic voters to participate in their primary. What a bunch of malarky,” the fake Biden voice voice says. “We know the value of voting Democratic when our votes count. It’s important that you save your vote for the November election.”
White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre confirmed Monday that the voice on the call is not President Joe Biden.
The robocall spoofed the cell phone number associated with former New Hampshire Democratic Chair Kathy Sullivan, who is leading the “Write In Biden” campaign. (Biden refused to allow his name to appear on the New Hampshire ballot after failing to force Granite State Democrats to give up their “First in the Nation” status.)
Sullivan would not respond to requests for comment from NHJournal, but she told NBC News, “It’s obviously somebody who wants to hurt Joe Biden.”
Discouraging unaffiliated voters who lean Democrat from participating in the GOP primary might hurt Nikki Haley and help Donald Trump. But how would it hurt Biden? Targeting registered Democrats would have no impact on the GOP primary at all since they cannot vote in the Republican contest.
Depending on who is targeted, notes veteran GOP strategist Dave Carney, it’s just as likely that phone calls trying to keep Democrats from voting on Tuesday would help Biden.
“It’s impossible to know who did it — it could be some hacker in his basement. But if you ask who benefits, it’s Joe Biden,” Carney said.
Efforts to rescue Biden from his decision to skip the First in the Nation primary could suffer a setback if enough fed-up Democrats follow the example of North Country progressive Theodore Bosen. He received the fake call, and he tells NHJournal he plans to vote in his party’s primary for U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.)
“Half the reason I’m voting for Phillips is how pissed off I am over what the DNC and Biden have done to the First in the Nation primary,” Bosen said. “It’s terrible for the whole process –we are the best state, historically, to vet the candidates, particularly Democrats.”
Bosen also said he is motivated by his opposition to Biden’s support for Israel in its ongoing war against Hamas inside Gaza. “What’s going on in Gaza with our money and our support is a war crime,” Bosen said. “And there isn’t a viable candidate who is even talking about it.”
If anger with Biden over the First in the Nation primary state or his Israel policy drives Democrats to the polls, the write-in effort has to match those numbers to keep Biden from being embarrassed in his party’s primary. The write-in effort isn’t organic; it’s organized. So the fewer Democrats that show up, the larger a percentage of the total the write-in will be.
The latest University of New Hampshire Survey shows the percentage of Democrats who say they plan to write in Biden has been slipping and now is down to the low 60s.
“Low turnout makes their write-in votes a bigger slice of the pie,” Carney said.
But Democrats like Sullivan and U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan insist Biden was the target.
“I urge Granite Staters to make sure their friends and neighbors know the truth and turn out in even bigger numbers to write in President Biden’s name,” Hassan said in a statement.
“I thought it was Trump, in part because [the fake Biden] talks about Democrats and independents taking part in the Republican primary,” Bosen said. “Only Trump thinks Democrats can vote in the Republican primary. He’s said it about five times in the last week.”
Bosen thinks the call has less to do with Biden than former Ambassador Nikki Haley. Haley’s push to take on Trump in the GOP primary is going to need all the undeclared voters it can get. The call is probably a Trump trick designed to keep those undeclared voters from helping her win, Bosen said.
“We all know independents are her only shot,” Bosen said.
If the call did come from a Biden ally, Bosen believes, it’s because the campaign sees numbers that are not so good for the incumbent president, and they’re feeling pressure from rising support for Phillips.
“It’s a schizophrenic strategy,” Bosen said. “Biden’s biggest blunder was for him to condone the write-in. (He) is screwed if Phillips does well.”
State Rep. Steve Shurtleff (D-Penacook), former Speaker of the House, is also backing Phillips.
“Dean Philips has the educational and business experience to be an outstanding president. As President Kennedy said at his inauguration, “Let the word go forth to friend and foe alike; the torch has been passed to a new generation …”
“As a senior citizen, I say it’s time for us to pass the torch. Pass it to the congressman from Minnesota, Dean Phillips.”
Formella’s office confirmed to NHJournal that it is investigating the almost certainly illegal calls. However, the Attorney General’s Office has spent more than a year investigating tens of thousands of dollars of illegal mail sent by Massachusetts Democrats to interfere with the 2022 GOP primary in the Second Congressional District. Formella and his office have taken no action or filed any charges.