Minnesota U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips kicked off a long-shot presidential bid on Friday saying he’d focus on “declaring a new independence” from the status quo and toxic politics.
In New Hampshire to formally file his application for that state’s Democratic primary, Phillips cast himself as in alignment with President Joe Biden on policy principles but said he feared Biden couldn’t win reelection and that it was time for the party to embrace a new candidate.
“I am a Democrat because I believe in America. I believe in the American people,” Phillips told supporters outside New Hampshire’s Capitol building after filing for the primary. “And I believe it is time to walk from the shadows of darkness into the bright sunshine of the future right here and right now. So let us make that choice together.”
He said his campaign provided an alternative to the country’s partisan political extremes.
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“It is time my friends, it is time for we, the exhausted majority, to meet this moment. We will stand in the way of extremists who are hijacking America and large swaths of the entire world,” he said.
Linda Rinaldi, from Hillsboro, N.H., was in a Concord restaurant where Phillips made his first retail-style campaign stop. Rinaldi lamented the state of politics and current affairs.
“We need change for sure. It’s sad everyday to listen to this horrible news,” Rinaldi said after being one of the first to encounter candidate Phillips. “He’s a nice guy, huh? He looks promising, really. Let’s do this. We need some change.”
The launch had all the modern campaign trappings: A giant tour bus bearing his name to serve as a backdrop and ferry the candidate’s coterie around; U.S. flags galore; and buttons with an “I’m keen on Dean” slogan.
The campaign said it would hold dozens of town hall meetings and small-scale events between now and next year’s primary, which still hasn’t been formally scheduled.
New Hampshire has traditionally played an outsized role in deciding party nominees. But Democrats shuffled their calendar this year to move other states up.
Biden won’t even appear on the New Hampshire ballot, which has been tentatively scheduled for Feb. 6, the same day as the Nevada primary. Phillips did not file to enter that primary. The Democrats’ first primary this cycle will be Feb. 3 in South Carolina but the filing window there hasn’t opened yet.
While Phillips pledged to support the winner of the party’s 2024 nomination, he and his campaign drew derision from Democratic leaders in Minnesota and Washington. Phillips sidestepped a question Friday about whether he'd run again for his 3rd District House seat if his presidential bid fails.
Gov. Tim Walz blasted out a fundraising email on behalf of the Biden campaign that urged people to remain focused on carrying the president through to reelection. Walz didn’t mention Phillips by name, but said his state is “full of great people. And sometimes they do crazy things.”
“We’re up against Joe Biden’s only credible opponents: Donald Trump and his MAGA minions,” the pitch went on. “We need everyone’s head in the game if we’re going to defeat them — everything else is a silly sideshow.”
Ron Harris, a DFLer running to unseat Phillips in the 3rd Congressional District, called the challenge to Biden a mistake.
“I think that as Democrats, we need to be united in terms of defeating the MAGA agenda with Donald Trump,” he said.
Phillips, a businessman before winning a seat in Congress in 2018, can lean on personal wealth to get his campaign going. Required financial disclosures put his net wealth in the tens of millions; a published report by The Atlantic said Phillips pegs it at around $50 million.
According to a Wall Street Journal reporter, Phillips told reporters on board his campaign bus Friday that he would use some of his family fortune — up to $2 million — as seed money to launch his campaign in the form of a loan.
Waging a presidential bid will prove far more costly. Phillips is attempting to raise money but doing so could prove challenging against an incumbent.
But he does have some presidential campaign veterans surrounding him. Steve Schmidt, who helped Republican Sen. John McCain to the nomination in 2008, is a top Phillips strategist.
The kickoff has been highly orchestrated, with long-form profiles and national television interviews built in around it. Phillips is also facing scrutiny on a scale he did not receive as a congressional candidate with his finances, past comments and more under the microscope.
As he made his way to the Capitol to file his paperwork, Phillips stood next to his bus and vowed to run an upbeat campaign.
“I cannot wait to get started, I’m going to do this with joy, I’m going to do it with optimism, with fortitude,” he said. “I’m tired of campaigns that are divisive and mean-spirited.”