Dean Phillips works New Hampshire streets for presidential bid

Dean signs a blue T-shirt for a person in a coffee shop.
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (left) signs a T-shirt for New Hampshire resident Sean Murphy and a coffee shop in downtown Laconia Saturday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

The New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival in Laconia is a big fall attraction and the weather this year was perfect, unseasonably warm.

Sometimes Dean Phillips not only introduced himself to potential supporters but also his tiny dog, Charlie.

“He’s very ‘bi-paw-tison.’ I hope you get the joke!”

Phillips often ends conversations with a high-five and sometimes a plea for help.

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Several of the people he meets like what he tells them and pledge their support for the Minnesota representative.

Like 52-year-old Sean Murphy, a New Hampshire grocery store worker who told Phillips he’s concerned about the cost of living.

Two people sit at an outside patio talking to Dean Phillips.
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (right) chats with a couple from Massachusetts that was in Laconia, N.H., for the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival on Saturday. They told Phillips that they are Republicans.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“I have insurance through where I work but even those rates are going up, prescription drugs are going up and pretty soon we can’t afford anything anymore now,” Murphy said. “It’s time to start with some fresh ideas and hopefully Dean can bring it enough that we can get him to the White House.”

Even though he’s challenging President Joe Biden — the leader of his own party — Phillips doesn’t shy away from talking to the chair and vice-chair of the Laconia Democratic Committee who are staffing a Pumpkin Fest booth.

A person signs a blue T-shirt during a street festival.
Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, giving T-shirts in Hampshire voters at the New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Eric Hoffman and Marcie Hayward say they think the nomination belongs to Biden, but they’re polite. Both maintain competition and new ideas are good for Democrats.

“You look at candidates like him you they shift the narrative and change the conversation,” Hoffman said, “and I think that’s in important part of the process.”

“The only thing is, he’s late to the game and he doesn’t have name recognition here,” Hayward said, “and that’s going to be a problem.”

Phillips is constantly flanked by his hired security detail comprised of several former Secret Service officers — a reflection of today’s bitter partisan divides.

He got plenty of news coverage when he announced last Friday, not so much on his first full day of campaigning.

Darren Brown, a 20-year-old from nearby Gilford, asked Phillips about his main concern: inflation.

“Well, first of all, inflation is a result of high demand and low supply,” Phillips said. “We should produce more in America.”

Phillips and Brown shared concerns about health care costs.

Two people talk on a sidewalk.
New Hampshire resident Darren Brown (right) talks to Rep. Dean Phillips about his concerns surrounding inflation on Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

“I just want a better life. I want to feel like America’s actually doing good,” Brown said.

After leaving Laconia’s busy Pumpkin Festival, Phillips campaigned at a diner in nearby Tilton, N.H.

An intense dad, David Kwiatkowski interrupted Phillips as he spoke with his adult daughter demanding to know why Phillips is challenging Biden.

“But you're running against Biden,” Kwiatkowski said.

“I'm actually not running against him I'm running for something,” Phillips said.

“Well I think Biden has done overall great job and I would like him to be reelected,” Kwiatkowski responded.

And Kwiatkowski, who lives in Massachusetts, worries if Phillips gains traction he'll hurt an already struggling incumbent president.

A man listens with his arms crossed while Dean Phillips talks.
Rep. Dean Phillips explains himself to David Kwiatkowski on Saturday. A Democrat from Massachusetts, Kwiatkowski doesn’t think Phillips challenging President Joe Biden is a good idea.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala has followed unsuccessful president campaigns of several Minnesotans—Republicans Michelle Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty and more recently Democrat Amy Klobuchar.

Scala said he doubts Phillips thinks he can win and instead is trying to send a message that Democrats are concerned about Biden leading the ticket.

“I do think that if you caught a lot of New Hampshire Democrats in a frank, honest moment, they would admit they're holding their breath a bit when it comes to Biden,” about whether he's good for four more years or even one more year to face off against Donald Trump,” he said.

Scala says many New Hampshire voters will at least hear out Phillips.

Phillips doesn’t shy away from admitting his campaign is a long-shot, but he made it to Congress as an underdog and has grown his base of support while in office.

He also has New Hampshire pretty much to himself. National Democrats are no longer recognizing New Hampshire's primary as the first in the nation. They awarded that honor to South Carolina in an effort to better diversify their nominating contest.