Democrats voice concern, outrage over Phillips primary bid

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Democrats are raising concerns and venting their frustration over Rep. Dean Phillips’s (D-Minn.) long-shot bid against President Biden.

Many members of the party believe Phillips, a three-term House Democrat, has little chance of ousting Biden in the primary, let alone enough name recognition to register on voters’ minds.

But some Democrats also worry Phillips’s bid is injecting further uncertainty into a race that already includes two other Democratic primary challengers and several independent candidates, which could splinter off votes for Biden.

“I have to say at this moment in time, the White House should be terrified because the president, while he is doing a good job in terms of policy, is looking at plummeting numbers, hemorrhaging support and Democrats who, like me, are sort of scared to go on the record and say what they think but are increasingly terrified,” said one Democratic consultant who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

“So if you have a young, energetic Democrat who’s willing to step up, I think the White House should be really concerned,” the consultant added.

Meanwhile, a source close to the Biden campaign said it “greeted today’s news with a shrug.”

Phillips officially kicked off his presidential bid Friday in New Hampshire, becoming the third Democratic primary contender to challenge Biden for the nomination. Progressive Marianne Williamson and “The Young Turks” founder Cenk Uygur are also running long-shot bids against Biden. Meanwhile, independent candidates Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Cornel West are also running in the race.

Speaking in New Hampshire, Phillips said he is running “not in opposition to President Biden, who has my affection and my gratitude, rather with two core convictions: That I am the Democratic candidate who can win — who can win — the 2024 election. And second, it is time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of American leaders right here all around the country and all around the world.”

Phillips’s announcement comes against the reshuffled Democratic National Committee (DNC) calendar. Late last year, Biden pushed to have South Carolina as the first state to vote in the Democratic primary. Along with supporters like Rep. Jim Clyburn (S.C.), Biden highlighted the diversity of the state — and the Black voters who helped push him to a win in 2020.

“For decades, Black voters in particular have been the backbone of the Democratic Party but have been pushed to the back of the early primary process,” Biden wrote to the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.

“We rely on these voters in elections but have not recognized their importance in our nominating calendar. It is time to stop taking these voters for granted, and time to give them a louder and earlier voice in the process.”

The lineup places South Carolina first, followed by New Hampshire and Nevada second.

Voters are expected to cast their ballots overwhelmingly for Biden in South Carolina, which could explain why Phillips is heading to New Hampshire first. Some Democrats have expressed outrage over the congressman’s decision to participate in the New Hampshire primary.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Phillips’s decision is “disrespectful” to voters of color.

“Any serious Democratic candidate would understand that Black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party,” Thompson said in a statement.

“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. His bid is fruitless, and it’s disrespectful to the voters of color that have shown time and time again they understand what it takes to win a general election,” he added.

Steve Schmidt, an adviser for Phillips, told reporters Friday that Phillips plans to focus on primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, according to CNN.

Still, Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright said starting in New Hampshire despite the primary calendar change could also create a distraction and give Republicans a chance to divide the Democratic Party.

“It gives our opposition party a chance to try and make an honest attempt to divide us and it opens up an even bigger window for misinformation, disinformation, and lies to flow into the ecosystem to the Democrat ecosystem,” Seawright told The Hill.

But more than that, he said, Phillips is sending a message to Black voters.

“Black voters demonstrate their trust at the ballot box and I don’t care how red or blue a district is — without some deep and wide support among Black voters, it will not be successful when it comes to Democrats,” added Seawright. “When the perception is that some do not respect the net worth and the network of the Black vote, this can give people a reason to double down on their frustration, sometimes the anger and I noticed that at work with some folks within our party.”

The Biden campaign, for its part, is touting the president’s widespread support within the party in a statement to The Hill.

“President Biden is proud of the historic, unified support he has from across the Democratic party for his reelection. The stakes of next year’s election could not be higher for the American people, and the campaign is hard at work mobilizing the winning coalition that President Biden can uniquely bring together to once again beat the MAGA Republicans next November,” said Biden campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz.

State Democratic parties have also rallied around Biden. South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Christale Spain in a statement called Phillips an “unserious candidate” and that the state “could not be more excited to once again back President Biden as our nominee.”

Nevada State Democratic Party Executive Director Hilary Barrett in a statement declared that “President Biden will be our nominee and we look forward to helping reelect him and Democrats up and down the ballot in Nevada next November.”

Elected officials have also criticized Phillips’s bid.

“The path to the White House runs through Nevada — a strong, diverse, pro-union state. You shouldn’t run for President if you’re not going to compete for Nevada voters, @deanbphillips,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) wrote in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

A fundraising email from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) poked at Phillips without naming him, saying, “You know, I have to say this about Minnesota: it’s a great state, full of great people. And sometimes they do crazy things,” according to The Messenger.

“And sometimes … they make political side shows for themselves. But that’s for another email,” he added later.

Strategists, meanwhile, are largely waving off Phillips’s bid, with some saying they had to search him on the internet before he announced.

“Let’s just be honest here. I mean, he’s a backbench House member, that most Americans — I’m going to go on a limb and say 99 percent of Americans — have never heard of before,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist who’s advising the pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country. “So I don’t necessarily think that because he’s a sitting member of the House, that that gives him some more sway or traction,”

Phillips’s campaign did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment on Friday.

Jared Gans contributed.

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