Updated Jan 22, 2024 - Politics & Policy

What to know about Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips

Dean Phillips on meet the press

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN) appears on "Meet the Press" in Washington, D.C. in August. Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty Images

Rep. Dean Phillips has taken his long-shot presidential primary challenge against President Biden to New Hampshire ahead of Tuesday's primary.

The big picture: The Minnesota Democrat has for months been calling on fellow Democrats to put forward an alternative candidate, citing concerns about Biden's age and popularity.

What is Dean Phillips' background?

Phillips, 54, was born and raised in the Twin Cities. His biological father, Artie Pfefer, died in the Vietnam War when he was a baby. His mother later married the heir to the Phillips Distilling Company.

  • Phillips, who graduated from Brown University, worked for his family's liquor business, served as chairman and co-owner of Talenti Gelato, and opened several local coffee shops in the Twin Cities before running for Congress in a suburban Minneapolis swing district in 2018.
  • His kitschy and upbeat campaign, which carried the slogan "Everyone's invited," featured flash mobs, a mobile coffee truck and pontoon boat rides. Outside groups on both sides spent millions.
  • He defeated Rep. Erik Paulsen, ending nearly six decades of Republican representation in the 3rd Congressional District. He handily won re-election in 2020 and 2022.

In Congress, the moderate Democrat joined the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.

Of note: His late grandmother Jeanne Phillips wrote the "Dear Abby" advice column under the pen name Abigail Van Buren.

Why is Phillips running against Biden?

Phillips was one of the first congressional Democrats to publicly call for a new nominee in 2024, telling a local radio station last year that the country "would be well served by a new generation of compelling, well-prepared, dynamic Democrats who step up."

  • Since then, he's repeatedly cited concerns about Biden's age, as well as polling about the president's approval rating and the potential match-up against former President Trump.
  • "I will not sit still and 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 October.
  • Phillips says he will support Biden if he does become the party's nominee.

Zoom in: Phillips' entry into the race follows months of public flirtation with a run.

  • He confirmed in July that he was being urged to enter the race, but maintained that he wasn't well-positioned to run and that a bid was unlikely.
  • Even then, he continued to float the idea and advocate for a contested primary in a series of national media interviews.
  • In October, he stepped down from his role in House Democratic leadership, saying his "convictions relative to the 2024 presidential race are incongruent with the majority of my caucus."

Flashback: This isn't the first time Phillips has called on a veteran Democrat to pass the torch.

What challenges does Phillips' presidential bid face?

Many strategists think Phillips is unlikely to succeed, given the challenges in running against an incumbent president and the three-term congressman's limited profile outside Minnesota.

  • Getting on the primary ballot in enough states to compete for the nomination in itself will be a difficult and expensive task.
  • Phillips already missed the deadline in the key early state of Nevada.

It's unclear if delegates won in New Hampshire's will be seated at the convention, given that the state is bucking Democrats' new nominating calendar to continue holding its first-in-the-nation primary.

  • State Democrats are expected to support Biden via a write-in campaign.

The intrigue: Phillips is one of the wealthiest members of Congress, with an economic disclosure filing reportedly showing an estimated net worth between $20.5 million and $70 million. After his election, he began moving his assets into blind trusts to avoid conflicts.

  • Campaign adviser Steve Schmidt told reporters Friday that Phillips "will put a little bit in upfront to get the ball rolling but we're gonna be a small-dollar donor campaign."

What are other Democrats saying about Phillips?

Phillips' moves have drawn sharp criticism from top Democrats supporting Biden, including some of his colleagues in Minnesota.

  • Minnesota DFL Party chair Ken Martin, a Biden supporter, said it's "perplexing" to see Phillips throw away the political capital he's built on a "wild goose chase."
  • In August, Omar, who represents a neighboring district, said it's "irresponsible to have a candidate who could possibly guarantee Trump's re-election and destroy any path to progress."

What we're watching: Phillips has already drawn one DFL primary challenger for his congressional seat, with several other Democrats preparing to jump in if he declines to seek a fourth term.

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