Rep. Dean Phillips facing his first big test on the presidential ballot

Dean Phillips holds a microphone with people listening and holding signs.
Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips listens to a question during a campaign rally on Saturday in Nashua, New Hampshire.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images

It’s the final full day of campaigning ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Tuesday night we’ll have results in Republican and Democratic contests.

Minnesota’s Dean Phillips is banking on a strong showing to buttress his case that the Democratic Party needs an alternative to incumbent President Joe Biden.

MPR News Correspondent Mark Zdechlik is tracking Phillips in New Hampshire and spoke to MPR News Host Cathy Wurzer live.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.   

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: It's the final full day of campaigning ahead of the New Hampshire primary. Tomorrow night, we'll have results in Republican and Democratic contests. Minnesota's Dean Phillips is banking on a strong showing to buttress his case that the Democratic Party needs an alternative to incumbent President Joe Biden. Our Mark Zdechlik is tracking Phillips in New Hampshire. He joins us live from there right now. Hey, Mark.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Hello, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Thanks for taking the time. I know you've been on the ground there since, what, last week? So you're pretty busy. What has Dean Phillips been up to?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Cathy, he's been making his final pitch for support among Granite Staters in coffeehouses and college campuses and other community settings. Right now, he is addressing the Nashua Rotary Club here in Nashua, which is just 15 minutes or so south of Manchester. He's telling, really, anybody who will listen that President Joe Biden will lose to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, the former president.

Phillips is also calling for an approach to politics that's aimed at finding common ground among competing opinions, rather than entrenching politicians in ideology and getting little accomplished beyond firing up their respective bases and building their party.

CATHY WURZER: So Dean Phillips is running against Joe Biden. And he's campaigning, even though the president's name is not on the ballot, right?

MARK ZDECHLIK: That's exactly right. The Democratic National Committee shook up its nominating calendar this year. They put South Carolina first. New Hampshire moved ahead anyway, but no Democratic convention delegates will be awarded out of this. Biden kind of split the difference. He kept his name off the ballot, but his supporters are running a write-in effort that is complete with typical campaign organizing, lawn signs, surrogate speeches, and all the rest all around New Hampshire.

CATHY WURZER: Say, what should we make of the editorial in the New Hampshire Union Leader-- that's one of the larger newspapers in New Hampshire-- telling readers to back Phillips?

MARK ZDECHLIK: The backing of the union leader certainly should offer a boost. How big of a boost, we just don't know yet. Four years ago, the influential paper endorsed Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar in the Democratic primary with Joe Biden for the general election, which, Cathy, is kind of notable, given the conservative leanings of that paper's editorial board. Here's what Phillips had to say about that endorsement when I spoke with him earlier today.

DEAN PHILLIPS: I think they recognize what the overwhelming majority of Americans are. The exhausted majority, I call it. Center right, center left Americans that simply are ready to turn the page from both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. I'm grateful for that endorsement because I think they see what is at risk, especially by a Donald Trump re-election.

They also favor Nikki Haley, I think it's worth pointing out. They get what's going on, and I do, too. And I think most listeners do as well. And that's why I'm asking people to open their hearts and minds to the reality. If Joe Biden is at the top of the ticket for Democrats, he's going to lose to Donald Trump.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Phillips appears, Cathy, to be getting a bump just for showing up. New Hampshire's famously protective of its first in the nation status in presidential races. And many Granite Staters are furious that the party snubbed that tradition. Phillips has been working hard to harness that frustration, telling Democrats they shouldn't reward Biden and asking them to send a message to the president with the votes.

CATHY WURZER: So, historically speaking, New Hampshire, as you know, Mark, has been kind of unpredictable in the past. What are we expecting maybe this time around?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well, the chair of the Democratic Party told me he thinks that frustration over President Biden's decision not to play here may drive turnout. I don't want to sound cliché, Cathy, but like every political race, this will come down to turnout. A bigger turnout would mean a lot more centrist voters are showing up, and that's presumably good for challengers to the perceived frontrunners, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Turnout was relatively low in the lead-off Iowa caucus state, which helped Trump rack up a big win on the strength of his hardcore supporters.

Like Minnesota, New Hampshire voters can register on election day at their polling places. Again, here is Congressman Phillips from that conversation I had with him earlier today, talking about his effort to get his supporters to polls tomorrow.

DEAN PHILLIPS: We're knocking on doors, making phone calls. And we've sent tens of thousands of postcards written by volunteers. I've been crisscrossing the state for the past 90 days, shaking hands, walking through the snow, answering questions, doing town halls, doing debates-- the things you do if you care about democracy. I went to a Trump rally last night, a Trump rally, just to say hi to the people waiting in line.

MARK ZDECHLIK: Cathy, Phillips said he was heartened by the friendly reception he got among those Trump supporters waiting to get into that rally.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, all right. Well, is it fair to say, then, that there has been obviously more tension there and obviously beyond the showdown between Donald Trump and Nikki Haley?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Absolutely, without question, Cathy. That is the big show here tomorrow. Republicans have funneled millions of dollars into the state through campaign organizing and advertising. There were several candidates on the GOP field until yesterday. Florida governor Ron Desantis dropped out yesterday. And former New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, left the race a few weeks ago.

On the Democratic side, Biden, as we mentioned, hasn't paid any attention to his party's primary, given that it's unsanctioned. Phillips has been in the state a lot, including several stretches on the stump of more than a week. He's advertised quite a bit, too, dipping into his personal fortune to pay for some of those ads.

CATHY WURZER: So you mentioned turnout, and I'm wondering how might the Republican race potentially affects Phillips' showing tomorrow?

MARK ZDECHLIK: Well, Republicans are expected to show up in good numbers for their primary, but there's a big push for the unaffiliated voters, those who aren't registered with either party. There are more of those, about 40%, than either party has under its umbrella. The undeclared voters can pick the primary they want to vote in. Haley and Phillips are both counting on them. If Haley can convince the unaffiliated voters to make a stand in the Republican race, that would probably cut into Phillips' support and also hurt Biden's other Democratic challengers. But we're soon about to find all this out, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: That's right. Mark Zdechlik, thank you so much.

MARK ZDECHLIK: You're welcome.

CATHY WURZER: That's MPR politics reporter Mark Zdechlik reporting live from New Hampshire. By the way, our coverage of the results of the New Hampshire primary start tomorrow night, 6:00 PM, right here on MPR News.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.