After New Hampshire vote, Dean Phillips says he'll ‘keep this baby going’ in Democratic race

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

Updated: 8:18 p.m.

Minnesota’s Dean Phillips declared his campaign in solid shape Tuesday after securing about 20 percent of the vote in New Hampshire’s unsanctioned Democratic primary, which President Joe Biden won through a write-in effort.

“You ready to keep this baby going?” Phillips shouted to his Election Night gathering in Manchester. “Because I sure as hell am.”

Phillips bet big on New Hampshire, sinking considerable time and significant personal money into a bid to get Democratic voters to elevate a three-term Minnesota congressman in a presidential challenge to the party’s incumbent.

“No one knew who we were 10 weeks ago,” Phillips said.

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Phillips was hopeful a strong showing against Biden would validate his claim that Democrats want somebody else atop their ticket as former President Donald Trump closes in on the Republican Party nomination.

He congratulated Republican Nikki Haley for a strong closing in her race against Trump, who won among Republicans but by a closer margin than some expected.

“This country deserves options. This country should not have coronations, and I know the exhausted majority of this country — center-right and center-left Americans — I know they'd much rather see and Nikki Haley-Dean Phillips matchup this November and we're going to try to get that done,” he said.

Unlike the Republican race, the national Democrats won’t recognize the results of the New Hampshire primary or award convention delegates. Biden didn’t campaign there or have his name listed on the ballot.  The primary went on under state law and a proud New Hampshire tradition.

“New Hampshire voters hate being told what to do by Washington,” state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley explained. 

Phillips barnstormed the state since entering the race in October, and many voters applauded him for showing up. But he needs their votes to prove him viable.

A strong showing — he set expectations as something in the 20 to 30 percent range in closing days — would force national political reporters to pay more attention to his message thereby introducing him to the rest of the nation, especially states that are early in the official nomination contest.

A man stands with signs
Colin Vanosterin outside polling place a Concord, N.H., on Tuesday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Biden supporters, meanwhile, want to avoid embarrassment for the incumbent and questions about his viability. So they waged a write-in campaign for Biden.

It has turned into a symbolic battle between Phillips and other lesser-known Democratic challengers and Biden’s proxy campaign.

In touring the state, Phillips told voters here that Biden is a weak candidate for reelection who’s on a path to lose the presidency to Trump — far and away his party’s front runner.

Phillips, who turned 55 just days ago, said it’s time for a younger generation of political leaders with new ideas.

“There's something really good about not being that well known because two thirds of the country does not yet hate me,” Phillips told one crowd this week. “But that’s the problem. We have an anger-tainment industry in our country right now that would have us believe that we are so much more divided than we really are.”

At a polling place in the capital city of Concord, 21-year-old Grace Poirier cast her primary ballot for Phillips on Tuesday. 

“I wasn’t too excited about it but there weren’t a lot of options that were aligned with a lot of what I believe in and so I picked the lesser of the evils I think,” she said.

A woman stands outside a polling place
Grace Poirier outside Concord City Hall polling place in New Hampshire on Tuesday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Outside many polling locations, Biden supporters held signs urging voters to write in the president’s name.

“I’m out here because I think it’s really important to make sure that we reelect President Biden and I think our democracy is on the line so it’s worth standing outside and reminding people about it,” said Colin Vanosterin, who was posted up outside Concord’s City Hall. 

Vanosterin, 44, said he doubted Phillips will get much support or damage the president’s reelection chances.

“I haven’t heard him say anything that seems like it captures voters’ imagination,” he said. “We have a real strong tradition in New Hampshire of kind of giving people a fair playing field and an open ear and I think he's gotten that here but what he said hasn't caught on.”

Phillips has pledged to carry on regardless of the New Hampshire outcome. He’s on the ballot in South Carolina, in Michigan and several Super Tuesday states, including Minnesota. 

But that’s common for candidates to say ahead of major primary votes. Money and momentum tend to follow solid showings but dry up when expectations aren’t met.

In a closing swing, Phillips told an event in Nashau that the longshot challenge to Biden has all been worth it and somebody needed to “say the quiet part out loud because both parties have gone wayward.”

“The memories that I have made in these last 90 days are the most beautiful of my life,” he said, adding, “Thank goodness we live in a country in which the long shot can have a platform. And but for all of you and this great state, I never could have even tried.”