Dean Phillips launches primary challenge against President Biden



Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips announced Thursday that he is running for president, kicking off a long-shot Democratic primary challenge to President Joe Biden.

“I think President Biden has done a spectacular job for our country, but it’s not about the past. This is an election about the future. I will not sit still, I will not be quiet in the face of numbers that are so clearly saying that we’re going to be facing an emergency next November,” Phillips told CBS News in a clip posted online.

Phillips is expected to formally announce his campaign Friday in Concord, where he’ll file to run in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary. He launched the first ad of his campaign Friday morning, a 60-second spot in the Granite State that shared some biographical information about him and did not mention Biden by name.

The three-term congressman, who recently left his House Democratic leadership position in the face of intraparty frustration over his calls for a Biden alternative, has argued that the president would be a weak general election candidate due to his age and low approval ratings. Still, Phillips’ campaign launch comes as Democrats are seeking to unify around Biden, fend off spoiler independent candidates and lay out the administration’s accomplishments to voters. Biden allies have described talk of Phillips running as a distraction that would only serve to highlight the president’s weak points.

01:44 – Source: CNN

Democratic strategist reacts to Democrat quitting leadership to challenge Biden

Phillips attempted to reach out to Biden in August, but the president was unavailable, according to a source. Instead, Phillips spoke to White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, who “heard him out,” the source said, but conveyed that the “president is the right person to win in 2024 and finish the job.”

Phillips told CNN that he tried to reach out to Biden “as a courtesy to advise him of my intentions, which at that time were to call for a new generation of candidates to compete for the nomination.” He said the call with Zients was “brief but friendly.”

Already, Phillips’ campaign strategy is causing headaches for the party. Biden will not file to appear on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot because the state isn’t complying with the national party’s revised nominating calendar, which demoted its first-in-the-nation primary status to second. Instead, Democrats will launch a write-in campaign for the president.

With Phillips’ entry into the race, that effort will become that much more important to New Hampshire Democrats, who would want to spare Biden an embarrassing early primary defeat. Phillips has already reserved $50,000 in ad time in the state this week, according to data from AdImpact.

Phillips’ announcement video highlights his campaign’s laser focus on the New Hampshire primary. In the minutelong video, he describes summer visits to the state he made as a child and champions its long tradition of expecting presidential candidates to engage in retail politics — something Biden won’t be doing.

“I love New Hampshire,” he says. “That’s why I’m back, as a candidate for president, in the place where we begin. Where presidential candidates stand before you, the voters, walk through the snow, listen to your dreams, hear your concerns, and most of all, discuss how we’re going to work together to move to the future.”

Phillips is being advised by former Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, two people familiar with the campaign told CNN. Schmidt, who left the GOP in 2018, previously worked on the campaigns of former President George W. Bush and the late Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The longtime strategist offered encouragement to Phillips during an interview late last month on his podcast “The Warning with Steve Schmidt.”

“I think if you went to the state of New Hampshire and you said, ‘I’m Dean Phillips, and I’m running for president, I’m seeking to become the Democratic nominee,’ there would be a lot of people screaming in Washington and a lot of people cheering in other parts of the country,” Schmidt told Phillips.

Schmidt did not immediately respond to a request for comment on his involvement with Phillips, which was first reported by The Messenger.

Outside New Hampshire, Phillips would face an even steeper road. Though his personal wealth is in the tens of millions, according to his most recent financial disclosure, he’ll likely struggle to find major Democratic donors who aren’t already backing Biden. He has historically eschewed contributions from political action committees.

He’s among the first to admit that he lacks the name recognition of other Democrats seen as future presidential contenders, such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

And his decision to focus on New Hampshire after the Democratic National Committee sought to elevate South Carolina to go first on the primary calendar could hurt him in the Palmetto State’s February 3 primary.

“South Carolina is an important testing ground for presidential candidates and so far, Dean Phillips is failing it,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Christale Spain said in a statement. “South Carolina could not be more excited to once again back President Biden as our nominee.”

Until recently, Phillips was known as a mild-mannered moderate, one of dozens who helped Democrats take control of the House in 2018. The heir to a Minnesota liquor business and grandson of Abigail Van Buren, the late advice columnist known as “Dear Abby,” Phillips’ first campaign focused on defending the Affordable Care Act and fixing government dysfunction.

Over the past year, however, he’s become the most prominent member of his party to call on Biden to not seek reelection, warning that the party needs a new generation of leaders to step forward.

That stance has cost him support within his own party: Phillips announced earlier this month that he was stepping down as co-chair of the House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, which handles the caucus’s messaging, after being called out during a closed-door caucus meeting for being out of step with the party’s stance on Biden’s reelection bid.

Phillips has also drawn a primary challenger for his suburban Twin Cities seat in DNC Executive Committee member Ron Harris. (Phillips has until June 4 to register to run for reelection in Minnesota ahead of the state’s August 13 primary for nonpresidential races.)

After leaving leadership, Phillips said he felt “liberated” and able to speak more freely. For months, he has said that while he thinks Biden is a great president, polling shows voters are concerned about his age and have given him low job approval ratings.

04:43 – Source: CNN

‘I have grave concerns’: Democratic lawmaker on President Biden’s 2024 bid

“I don’t know how one can dismiss what we’re hearing, what we’re seeing, what we’re sensing and what we’re reading. And it all points to the same thing,” Phillips told CNN after he stepped down from leadership. “If Democrats do not listen right now, I’m afraid the consequences will be another Trump administration.”

In a September CNN poll, two-thirds of Democrats said they wanted the party to nominate someone other than Biden. But 67% of Democrats also said they believed it is very or extremely likely that Biden will be the party’s nominee and 82% said they didn’t have a specific challenger to the president in mind. Nearly half of Democrats cited Biden’s age as their biggest concern about his 2024 campaign.

After Biden announced in April that he would seek a second term, Phillips called on other Democratic leaders to launch a primary challenge and hinted that he may run himself. In July, he met with donors in New York to discuss a possible bid.

From there, speculation over a potential 2024 campaign grew, as Phillips reached out to New Hampshire leaders. Earlier this week, a Dean Phillips for President bus was seen driving through Ohio, presumably en route to the Granite State.

Biden — who raised $71 million for his reelection and the Democratic Party in the third fundraising quarter of 2023 — is the overwhelming favorite for the party nomination. In February, the DNC’s membership unanimously approved a resolution to express its “full and complete support” for Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their reelection in 2024.

Incumbents historically have not participated in primary debates, and this cycle is no different – there are none on the books.

That’s left little room for challengers. Author Marianne Williamson, another long-shot Democratic candidate, has failed to make a dent in the polls since she launched her campaign in March.

Environmental lawyer and vaccine critic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. left the Democratic primary earlier this month to run as an independent, raising concerns that he would pull votes from Biden and help Republicans. Allies of former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 GOP nod, are in turn worried the Kennedy campaign could boost Biden.

In Congress, Phillips has consistently voted with the president and hasn’t criticized his policy positions, a point the White House has made.

“We appreciate the congressman’s almost 100% support of this president as he’s moved forward with some really important, key legislative priorities for the American people,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.

CNN’s Jeff Zeleny, Arlette Saenz and David Wright contributed to this report.

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