Senate Democrats on Monday brushed aside Rep. Dean Phillips’s primary challenge against President Biden, while questioning why the Minnesota Democrat is jumping into the race at all when Democrats are focused on keeping former President Trump out of the White House.
“I’m a strong supporter of Joe Biden. I think he’s done more than any other president in my lifetime to grow the middle class,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), the No. 3 Senate Democrat.
“I don’t think that’s going to end up being a big issue,” she added.
News of Phillips’s campaign, which he launched over the weekend with an emphasis on primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, has been greeted harshly by Democrats by and large. Some are concerned that he could place a spotlight on the president’s weaknesses and splinter some of his support ahead of what could be another nail-biter of a general election.
Some senators shared that sentiment.
“I don’t see any pathway he has to win. I’m not sure I agree with trying to call further attention to the things the public has issues with,” Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) said.
“I don’t understand what his goals are,” he continued, adding that he doesn’t see the upside for Phillips in this campaign. “I just don’t understand.”
Phillips rolled out his campaign in New Hampshire a little more than three months before the Granite State’s primary and on the last day for a candidate to file for the contest.
He has readily acknowledged that his bid is a long shot and has repeatedly praised the incumbent president, saying that he has done a “spectacular job for our country” and that his campaign is “not in opposition to President Biden, who has my affection and my gratitude.”
The three-term Minnesota congressman and former business owner was among the candidates who helped Democrats flip the House in the 2018 midterms and subsequently was a consistent ally of Biden’s.
But Phillips is seeking to draw a contrast with Biden in the same vein as a criticism from the right over his age. Biden is 80 and Phillips, 54, has consistently beat the drum that it’s time for the U.S. to move on to a new age of leaders and has pointed to poor polls that have recently surfaced for Biden — specifically on the age question.
According to an Associated Press-NORC survey taken in August, 77 percent of Americans and 69 percent of Democrats said Biden is too old to serve effectively in the White House. A Morning Consult poll showed last week that Biden and Trump are tied nationally.
Still, Senate Democrats are nonplussed at the run and are treating it with little attention at this point.
“I haven’t really read anything about it. I don’t view it as that serious so I’m not taking it that seriously yet,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who served as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016. “And I’ve got a lot of other things on my mind.”
“Events of the world are pretty heavy on our shoulders now, and so that’s not really what I’m focused on,” Kaine added.
Among the top problems for Phillips, in addition to running against an incumbent president, is the extremely late timing of his announcement. He has already missed the deadline to appear on the ballot in Nevada, a key early-voting state — a move that earned derision from top Democrats in the Battle Born state.
“The path to the White House runs through Nevada — a strong, diverse, pro-union state,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), a former Senate Democratic Campaign arm chairwoman, said Friday. “You shouldn’t run for President if you’re not going to compete for Nevada voters, @deanbphillips.”
Meanwhile, supporters of the president in New Hampshire responded to Phillips’s bid by launching a write-in campaign after Biden declined to file to put his name on the state’s Democratic presidential primary ballot.
Democrats have shuffled their early-voting calendar for the 2024 cycle with South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire being the first batch of states to make their voices heard.
Phillips’s run adds him to the list of candidates in the Democratic field seeking to take on Biden, including Marianne Williamson. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was among those in the field, but he shifted recently to an independent bid alongside progressive Cornel West.