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Joe Biden’s big mistake in New Hampshire

Now the Granite State will again hold an election to begin the presidential nomination process, Biden will not appear on the ballot, and Democratic insiders here are forced to mount a write-in campaign to ensure the sitting president will prevail when the vote takes place. organized in January. Which could have been the end of the story before last Friday.

That’s when, just hours before New Hampshire’s filing deadline, an earnest member of Congress from the Midwest made it clear that he was not entirely free of deception and, to borrow from the famous leader of Tammany Hall, George Washington Plunkitt, saw his opportunities and he took them.

Mixing the excitement of a pre-teen looking at a T-Rex likeness and the happy warrior joy of his political hero Hubert Humphrey, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) let out back-to-back “wows” as he signed his statement for candidacy and paid $1,000 to appear on the New Hampshire presidential ballot.

Then he set about preying on New Hampshire’s insecurities with the appetite of a T-Rex.

“I learned to love my country right here in New Hampshire,” Phillips said, telling photographers, reporters and state officials crowded into the secretary of state’s office at the Capitol about his summers spent in camp in the White Mountains. (The camp is technically in Maine, although along the New Hampshire border, as the union leader reported.) He also revealed his inscription on the documents: “I love New Hampshire.”

After making it official, Phillips went into the next room, sat down with a group of New Hampshire reporters and answered the simplest question anyone could ask him.

“Yes,” Phillips said, he would restore the state to its role at the start of the presidential nomination process. “The country can and should learn from New Hampshire.”

Terry Shumaker perceived everything with a worrying look. A longtime Democratic actor whose loyalty to Bill Clinton in 1992 landed him an ambassadorship to the Caribbean, Shumaker is no stranger to New Hampshire primaries. And as he watched a self-funded, idealistic and slightly offbeat 54-year-old lambast Washington’s “grotesque” fundraising industrial complex while promising to answer New Hampshire voters’ questions, one town hall at a time, well, the old man has seen enough. races here to find out what resonates in an independent state where independents can hold primaries.

“His advisers and the DNC made a big mistake, it wasn’t necessary,” Shumaker said of the president’s entourage and the national party. “There was no reason for us to move.”

It’s understandable that Shumaker — whose support for Biden dates back to the president’s first presidential bid in 1987 — would blame staffers. But I was reliably told that it was Biden himself who wanted to revamp the party’s nomination schedule to make South Carolina the leading state, rewarding the state that revived its candidacy in 2020 and elevating the more moderate black voters who shape Democratic primaries there.

It’s possible that Biden’s nuisance in New Hampshire won’t fully materialize. Phillips is clearly torn about whether to criticize the president. On Friday, he oscillated, sometimes only seconds apart, between praising Biden and offering thinly veiled attacks on his age and economic record. Unlike past primary challengers who ran on the basis of political criticism, the Minnesotan’s case is primarily about Biden’s electoral viability.

And while Phillips didn’t open his campaign using summer as a verb, for the wealthy heir to a liquor fortune, trying to identify with a state by talking about his youth there in a prison camp night is, however genuine the affection, ripe. for mockery and a sign of novelty, he is in this process. Some high-profile Democrats sought to push former Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan into the primary against Biden, I’m told, and his tougher style might have been better suited to this period of economic malaise.

Then there’s the matter of Phillips’ forced marriage to former Republican consultant Steve Schmidt, which could work wonderfully but could also prove a distraction.

Perhaps more importantly, if Phillips believes his candidacy will only help former President Donald Trump by weakening Biden, it is plausible that he would step down.

However, that moment may have passed when Biden refused to even answer the congressman’s call last week. Philips was clearly still stung Friday when he recounted how his chief of staff was informed by Biden’s legislative affairs director, Shuwanza Goff, that the White House was following the news and there was no need to ‘to call.

Now, Phillips’ mere presence in the race presents a dilemma for Biden in a contest he was trying to marginalize.

If he urges the well-connected New Hampshire Democrats overseeing his write-in campaign — a list that includes former state party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan and veteran strategist Jim Demers — to step aside, he would effectively hand the primary to Phillips. However, if the group moves forward with the write-in campaign, Biden must prevail lest he face the same humiliation that has stung incumbent presidents since the moment Estes Kefauver took his cap in office. raccoon skin north and helped knock Harry Truman out of the 1952 presidential race.

And remember, other incumbent presidents have won New Hampshire but were nonetheless bruised by their opponents’ stronger-than-expected performance. This list includes, perhaps most famously, Lyndon Johnson in 1968 (also written), who narrowly defeated Eugene McCarthy, as well as Gerald Ford in 1976 and George HW Bush in 1992, both of whom had to fend off their opponents to their right. None of them survived to win another term.

To those who say that New Hampshire is now moot because there are no delegates in play, at least if the DNC does not concede, I would point out that the accumulation of delegates was irrelevant for the most of these races. It is the perception of state results that shapes campaigns.

“There are very few upsides and a lot of downsides for Biden,” said Steve Duprey, a half-century veteran of New Hampshire politics. A former state GOP chairman and close ally of New Hampshire’s former third-ranking senator, John McCain, Duprey voted for Biden in 2020.

“If he ignores New Hampshire or does it half-heartedly, he loses,” Duprey said. “But if he goes all-in, blesses the entry and loses, then it’s even worse.” The only answer: “He must win now.” »

Attracting Biden, at least symbolically, would of course be nothing but desert for the state’s primary protectors. But if New Hampshire’s political class is particularly sensitive right now, ask yourself why.

One party completely abandoned Iowa and tried to demote New Hampshire. And the other party is about to nominate a candidate who doesn’t care about any of the supposedly essential rites of passage that both states say make them unique.

Trump doesn’t have house parties, town hall meetings, or even participate in debates. Yes, he’s a celebrity and yes, he’s a de facto incumbent for many Republicans. But he did the same flying routine for a rally and departure in 2016 and it did him little harm in New Hampshire. If he can do it again this time and still win, well, what exactly makes this state different from the others?

I asked a version of this question to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis when he passed through the state earlier this month and he received the same ravenous look as Phillips.

“I think as we get closer, people who think they have a right to the nomination are going to burn them,” DeSantis said of Trump’s refusal to engage with voters or his fellow candidates, adding: “You have to earn that nomination. . That’s something they expect. They want to be able to kick the tire.

It may be wishful thinking, at least for Trump, but it’s not hard to find New Hampshire leaders charmed by such calls, in part because they fear losing a lucrative franchise, politically and otherwise, for the State.

“I think he’ll pay the price for not showing up and being here and doing the things he should be doing,” Tim Lang, a Republican state senator from Laconia, predicted of Trump.

I spoke to Lang at a Republican candidate forum in Nashua, the kind Trump never attends, in which at least one top surrogate introduced his preferred candidate by reminding Republican voters in attendance who is campaigning at the Granite State way.

“No one graces the First In The Nation primary more than Nikki Haley,” said retired Army Gen. Don Bolduc, citing the former South Carolina governor’s numerous public meetings in his introduction of Haley.

All of this may seem like self-centeredness from a state clinging to a fading tradition, not to mention the fact that Iowa and New Hampshire were already becoming the scene of increasingly nationalized primaries.

Still, I’ve covered enough races here to know that, as Duprey said, “New Hampshire voters like it when you show up.”

Phillips intends to do just that, and began his campaign by promising to break McCain’s record for held town halls, an ambitious goal for the two and a half months before New Hampshire’s likely primary date in mid-January .

As with the 2000 McCain campaign, Phillips intends to provide extensive press access. And as he rode with a group of reporters and photographers in his new campaign bus, already decorated with his father’s old baseball glove and a stack of books, including “The Arrogance of Power” by J. William Fulbright, he offered a glimpse of what he intended to do. tell New Hampshire voters.

“There is a culture of civic engagement in this state that I consider unique,” ​​Phillips said. “People are literally committing to vetting precisely the candidates that the rest of the country will soon be vetting. This is not to say that other states don’t matter, they matter just as much. But tradition dictates that we start here.

As for Biden’s decision to try to push out New Hampshire, he said it amounted to an attempt to “disenfranchise” New Hampshire voters.

“We’ve seen a lot of leaders in this country like to change the rules when the rules don’t suit them,” Phillips said.

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