Politics and Government

3rd District constituents sound off on Rep. Dean Phillips' possible presidential campaign

Phillips speaks with a child at a clinic
DFL Rep. Dean Philips receives a sticker and, in return, Phillips attached his congressional pin to the child's shirt at a health care clinic in Minnetonka, Minn., on Oct. 9.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

After months of flirting with the idea of running for president, 3rd District Rep. Dean Phillips faces a pivotal deadline next week in his potential bid to challenge Joe Biden for the Democrats’ 2024 presidential nomination.

Phillips has until Friday, Oct. 27 to file to put his name on New Hampshire’s primary ballot, if he decides to run.

Minnetonka resident Kathryn Frengs has been a Phillips fan since the former businessman launched his 2018 campaign for the 3rd District seat. In addition to holding campaign signs on overpasses, Frengs said she spent a lot of time door knocking for Phillips and writing postcards to build support for him.  

But she said the congressman’s talk about possibly taking on Biden, a fellow Democrat, is “devastating” to her and many of her friends.

A woman sits in a residence
Minnetonka resident Kathryn Frengs had been a Phillips supporter from the beginning and says she’s “devastated” over Phillips’ questioning President Joe Biden’s 2024 reelection prospects. Frengs shared her thoughts Wednesday, October 18, 2023.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“It feels, I’ll be honest, a little bit like a betrayal of trust,” said Frengs, who worries about the impact of Phillips voicing his concerns about Biden’s age and reelection prospects.

“I believe Dean's talk of candidacy is actually going to help (possible GOP rival) Donald Trump in the long run,” she said.

A few miles away, at the Eden Prairie Community Center, some gym-goers had a different take on Phillips’ potential challenge.

Jim Eisenreich said that while he hasn’t voted for Phillips in the past, he would considering casting a ballot for him now, if he runs for president.

“If there's one reason I have respect for him, it’s that he opened up his mouth and he's said, you know, ‘Biden shouldn't be running again,’ and I totally agree,” said Eisenreich, a former business teacher at Eden Prairie High School.

Constituent Cindy Hayden told MPR News she doesn’t have an opinion on the merits of Phillips getting into the race, but the Eden Prairie resident said she thinks Biden and Trump are not good choices to lead the country for a second term — a view that’s reflected in many U.S. political polls.

“I don’t like Trump. I don’t like how he acted,” said Hayden. “And Biden just doesn’t seem like he’s always there, and doesn’t know what’s going on.”

A man stands in a community gym hallway.
Former Eden Prairie High School business teacher Jim Eisenreich says he never voted for Phillips but he would considering casting a ballot for Phillips if he runs for president.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

But that sentiment may not resonate with New Hampshire Democrats, who party officials say back Biden over other candidates by a significant margin.

New Hampshire’s primary will not been recognized by the Democratic National Committee, which awarded the first primary it will count in the nomination contest to South Carolina. But courting New Hampshire voters would still be an important test for Phillips.

New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley, who recently met Phillips through a telephone introduction, said he does not share the congressman’s concerns about Biden’s reelection prospects. But Buckley said Phillips is welcome make his case in the state.

“He can decide to do whatever he wishes to do, but I think the voters of New Hampshire pretty much decide what they're going to do,” he said.

The tight national polls that worry many Democrats don’t bother Buckley, who underscored presidents are chosen state-by-state, not by the popular vote. Meanwhile, polls in some battleground state like his, show Biden defeating Trump by a substantial margin, he said.

Back in Minnesota’s 3rd District, Doug and Lottie Bischoff are big fans of Phillips, but they don’t think he is presidential material — at least not in 2024.

Two people pose for a photo in a hallway of a community gym building.
3rd District residents Doug and Lottie Bischoff say they are big fans of U.S.Rep. Dean Phillips, but they don’t think after just a few terms in Congress, Phillips is 2024 presidential material.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“He’s not ready for that,” said Doug Bischoff. “He's got to go out and do more (and) get his name in the news, under good circumstances.”

Lottie Bischoff agreed with her husband. “I don't think he'd make it,” she said. “He hasn't been on the news or in this scene very long.”

For his part, Phillips hasn’t been in a rush to announce his intentions. He missed a Monday deadline to place his name on the primary ballot in Nevada.

During a recent visit to a health clinic in the 3rd District, he politely side-stepped an employee’s question about his presidential aspirations.

“She asked if I was going to run for dog catcher,” he joked.