In closing New Hampshire pitch, Phillips says: ‘I am a longshot and I love it’

a man speaks and points
Minnesota democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips speaks to supporters during a campaign rally on Jan. 20 in Nashua, N.H.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Democratic presidential candidate Dean Phillips offered a frank assessment of his standing in the final day of campaigning ahead of a New Hampshire primary that his party isn’t validating.

“I am a longshot. And I love it. Because this country is predicated on it,” Phillips told a Rotary International luncheon in Nashua, urging those in attendance to take a chance in Tuesday’s primary.

“I believe we're going to surprise and it starts with you if you are ready for change. And if you think it's time for a new generation, if you believe we can do better, if you believe we deserve better. Give me a shot.“ 

Making his last-ditch appeal for votes, the Minnesota congressman embraced his underdog role in his campaign to wrest the Democratic nomination from President Joe Biden.

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The Democratic National Committee downgraded the New Hampshire primary from its usual first-in-the-nation status. That means it won’t count the results for delegate allocation purposes because the state is skipping without authorization in the new lineup. 

A woman rearranges a table
A campaign staffer organizes Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips accessories and apparel ahead of a campaign rally on Jan. 20 in Nashua, N.H.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Biden split the difference: He kept his name off the ballot and hasn’t appeared at events. But his supporters are running a write-in effort. That is complete with typical campaign organizing, lawn signs and surrogate speeches around the state.

Polling places open early and will remain open until 7 p.m. eastern time.

The Republican race is a showdown between former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. 

Republicans are largely expected to take part in their party’s primary. But there’s a big push on for those unaffiliated voters — those who aren’t registered with either party. There are more of those — about 40 percent — than either party has under their umbrellas.

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’s probably working against Phillips and other Democratic challengers to Biden.

At events, Phillips has cast himself as an antidote to today’s divisive politics and said he’d look beyond partisanship when crafting policy and building a cabinet. 

“The country is saying they do not want Donald Trump or Joe Biden. Donald Trump I think is dangerous. I witnessed it firsthand,” Phillips said Monday. “Joe Biden is a good man who served our country I believe, with integrity, but it is time for change. The country wants it.”

While he acknowledges the tough road he faces to get to the White House, he’s been getting some encouragement along the way. 

A man speaks to a crowd
Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips Dean Phillips speaking at a Rotary meeting in Nashua, N.H., Monday afternoon.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

He’s getting decent crowds at his stops, but that’s also relative to the size of the venues. He perked up during one exchange with a voter in Nashua who picked up on the Phillips description of himself as a longshot

“Most of the country considers me that, too,” he interjected.

The woman, who didn’t provide her name, told Phillips: “I'm really appreciating listening to you is you kind of have the mindset that I look for in a candidate. I am an independent, the two party system doesn't work for me, I find I borrow from everyone, but you’re hitting on a lot of the topics that matter to me."

The woman brought up the high cost of housing and other economic concerns. Phillips talked about regulatory solutions and his American dream account program to help young buyers afford entry into the homeownership market

Phillips is looking for momentum and validation of a campaign theme that Biden is a weak incumbent, even within his own party. 

Even though Biden isn’t named on the ballot, it would be seen as a setback if a current president got an electoral scare from a little-known congressman. 

Phillips is reveling a bit in being the underdog. He heralded an endorsement from the New Hampshire Union Leader, a top newspaper in the state. That newspaper’s editorial board supported another Minnesotan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, in the 2020 primary before backing Biden in the general election.

Tuesday’s editorial called Phillips “a reasonable alternative” and applauded that he “is on the ballot and actively campaigning in the Granite State.”

A man talks to a crowd
Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips speaks to supporters during a campaign rally on Jan. 20 in Nashua, N.H.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Phillips appears to be getting a bit of a bump just for showing up. Many Democrats were furious when the party snubbed the state’s leadoff tradition.

Phillips has worked to harness that frustration, telling Democrats they shouldn’t reward Biden and asking them to send a message with their votes.

Phillips has set his vote percentage expectation bar at somewhere in the 20-30 percent range.

University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala has watched primaries for quite awhile. 

“I don’t know that he's broken through in a big way,” Scala said. “I suspect his brand name is still fairly low profile. He has had advertising up in New Hampshire and so forth. Doesn’t feel to me as if he’s broken through as other insurgents have in the past. So I think he’ll make a bit of a splash on primary day, but I’m not expecting a shock from Dean Phillips.”