Jan 20, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Dean Phillips’ lonely campaign cuts deeper at Biden’s age

Photo: Gaelen Morse/Getty Images

MANCHESTER, N.H.: Rep. Dean Phillips, the longshot Democrat challenging President Biden, is sharpening his attacks in the final days before Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

Why it matters: Even if Phillips' campaign is unsuccessful, his increasingly pointed attacks will be fodder for Republicans to use against Biden in a general election.

  • Phillips, 55, told Axios that it would be "impossible" for Biden to do the job for four more years.
  • Biden would turn 85 in the third year of another term.

Driving the news: In an interview this week between events in the Granite state, the little-known three-term Minnesota congressman was blunter about Biden's age—not just that he could lose but he could also win.

  • "At that stage of life, it is impossible ultimately to conduct, to prosecute the office of the American presidency in the way that this country in the world needs right now. That is an absolute truth."

Between the lines: Phillips, who entered the race in late October, has been lowering expectations for his performance in New Hampshire despite investing most of his time and money in the state.

  • Polls have shown Biden dominant in the state's primary even though he is not on the ballot, but Phillips said that he will continue his campaign regardless of the results next Tuesday.
  • There have not been many recent high quality polls of the Democratic contest, but a CNN poll earlier in January found Phillips polling at 7%.
  • In the final days before the contest, Phillips is arguing that anything less than a 60-point victory for Biden should be considered a loss. "Popular and electable incumbents should earn 80%+, even by write-in," he wrote on X on Friday.

His events in the final week have been modest–in both numbers and enthusiasm.

  • They are often adorned with "I'm keen on Dean" buttons and posters that simply read: "COURAGE."
  • Self-aware, his campaign sells a hat that reads: "Dean Who?"
  • Still, the earnest and sometimes corny Phillips called the the presidential campaign trail a "wonderful, joyful, and all-American Journey."

Phillips added he will compete in South Carolina and Michigan and he intends to stay in the race until the Democratic convention in August.

  • "I think it is imperative that we have actionable data as close to that convention as possible that identifies which Democratic candidate is best positioned to defeat Donald Trump. And should that be Joe Biden, I would get behind him."

Zoom out: Some Democrats privately agree with Phillips' concerns about Biden's electability and age, but think his last-second campaign is foolhardy and will only help Trump win which is his ostensible reason for running.

  • Phillips has framed himself as a reluctant candidate who only ran because other Democrats wouldn't.
  • Ken Martin, the chair of the the Minnesota state party, said Phillips going all the way to the convention floor would be "overturning the will of the voters."
  • He added: "This is not only undemocratic but just another example of him putting his ego ahead of our party, our country, and Democratic voters showing up to have their voices heard in this important process."

The other side: Billy Shaheen, a powerful force in New Hampshire Democratic politics and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's husband, told Axios that all the sniping at Phillips from fellow Democrats was misguided.

  • "You can't be afraid of people with different ideas who want to challenge you," Shaheen said. "Phillips is reflecting concerns around the country on the age issue. He's a smart guy and his heart is in the right place. I think we need fellas like him in the party."
  • The Biden campaign declined to comment.
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