Off to the side, Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), was asked about Phillips presence there. “I can’t imagine that there’s anybody here that even cares,” she said, sporting a write-in sticker on her pink blazer.
For Phillips, the congressmember from Minnesota, it was a blunt reminder of the long odds he faces in his effort to primary Biden. The president may not be on the ballot here. But the weight of the party establishment is lined up behind him.
And it’s not just in New Hampshire, either. Earlier this week, Phillips threatened a lawsuit because the Florida Democratic Party appears poised to forgo a presidential primary after it submitted only Biden’s name as a candidate up for nomination.
But it’s in New Hampshire where Phillips needs to make his mark if he’s to have any chance of wrestling away the nomination. And the early signals are that Democrats aren’t going to let him make a run at it without serious pushback. Biden will not be on the ballot due to a dispute between the state and national parties — but top Democrats are working to ensure he wins, anyway.
On Friday, longtime New Hampshire Democratic operative Kathy Sullivan confirmed to POLITICO that she is helping launch a super PAC to encourage voters to write in Biden in the primary.
Sullivan, former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said the PAC is beginning to fundraise. The organization, Granite for America, has also filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The super PAC’s kick-off comes as some Democrats in the state quietly express concern that more needs to be done to encourage primary voters to not only support Biden, but also educate them that they will need to write in his name on the ballot to do so.
“Thank God his name is easy to spell,” Kuster said of Biden. “It’s not like Lisa Murkowski or something.”
Phillips, for his part, didn’t take the stage at the dinner Friday, but he did attempt to work the room to drum up interest in his campaign as his supporters staffed a table outside.
“I love and have great affection for many of the people that spoke tonight, many of my colleagues,” Phillips told reporters afterward.
But, “we all know the polls” he said, in an apparent reference to some national polls that show Biden trailing former President Donald Trump in head-to-head matchups. “And I’m disappointed that we have a political culture that doesn’t reward truth and honesty and principle right now.”
Biden left his name off the primary ballot in New Hampshire because the state is holding a primary in violation of the Democratic National Committee’s rules. In order to avoid an embarrassing early loss to Phillips or self-help guru Marianne Williamson, top Democratic elected officials and strategists in the state are mobilizing to help Biden win a write-in campaign.
The PAC, Sullivan said, has “been formed to help people know that they can go out and vote for Joe Biden by writing his name in on the ballot.”
New Hampshire strategists have already created a separate grassroots organization to encourage voters to write in Biden’s name as well. That group is also slowly ramping up operations and has brought on two staffers, according to organizers of the effort. Aaron Jacobs, a Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) alum, is advising on communications, and Patrick Conway, who most recently was campaign manager for Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess, is leading organizing efforts. The group will focus on voter education, like organizing volunteers to hold signs at the polls on Jan. 23, New Hampshire’s primary day, and urging voters to write in Biden’s name.
The grassroots organization, known as Granite State Write-In, got a boost from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) on Thursday when he rallied roughly 100 volunteers on a Zoom call.
Sullivan, who had until recently been helping with the grassroots group, provided few details about the super PAC where she is now treasurer. She said more information about it would be released in the next couple weeks.
Democrats who want to see a more robust effort to persuade voters to write in Biden’s name are not panicking. And officials have said that under the DNC’s penalties, those presidential candidates who have filed to get onto the ballot, such as Phillips, won’t win any delegates.
But some Democrats are anxious to see TV ads soon, more yard signs, and a more aggressive presence at party events throughout the state. So far, the write-in campaign has been mostly volunteer-run. And though Phillips is polling behind Biden, his independent wealth would allow him to fund his own commercials here.
At the state Democratic Party dinner on Friday, the nascent grassroots effort put on a show of strength. Dozens and dozens of the state’s top Democratic officials and activists milled about the event hall with the write-in campaign’s stickers on their blazers.
When Jefferies went on an extended riff about Biden’s legislative accomplishments, he brought the crowd to its feet. Phillips, who was sitting at a nearby table politely applauding along, rose with them.
As Phillips lamented to reporters afterward that New Hampshire voters were being “disenfranchised” by the president not putting his name on the ballot here, a line formed a few feet away of people looking to take home yard signs for the Biden write-in campaign.
Kuster described the write-in campaign as “going great — we’re signing up all kinds of people” and “we’ve got signs everywhere.”
Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said that within the state “it’s pretty well-understood that Biden is not going to be on the ballot.”
However, he said he hopes voters are aware of the sometimes arcane rules that they must follow in order to write in a candidate.
“I want to make sure everyone that leaves has done it correctly,” he said. “There’s a danger of someone writing in someone’s name and not filling in the oval.”
That Biden’s allies need to wage a write-in campaign on his behalf is a circumstance of his own making. At the president’s urging, the DNC moved to make South Carolina the party’s first 2024 nominating contest, with New Hampshire voting second on a shared date with Nevada.
But New Hampshire has a state law on the books that says it must hold its primary a week before any similar contest. Republicans who control the state’s government refused to change it, while Democrats shot down the idea of holding a party-run primary to circumvent the law as too costly and complicated. State officials set the primary nearly two weeks before South Carolina’s Feb. 3 contest.
A recent University of New Hampshire/CNN poll showed that while support for Biden has slipped somewhat in the state compared to past UNH surveys, Phillips and Williamson are still long shots. Sixty-five percent of 674 likely Democratic primary voters contacted said they would write Biden in over Phillips, who earned 10 percent support, and Williamson, who got 9 percent. The poll was conducted online from Nov. 10-14 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Khanna, a member of the Biden campaign’s national advisory board, expressed optimism that the president will be victorious in next month’s primary, though he reiterated previous calls he’s made for him to participate in the contest.
“From talking to voters in the state, I’m confident Biden will win the primary and hope he will be involved in supporting these efforts,” he said. “Voters trust the president and he has a compelling record to run on. As a campaign surrogate, I’ll be working to help get that message out.”
Elena Schneider contributed to this report.