The Insignificant Challenge: Rep. Dean Phillips’ Bid Against President Biden

For team Biden, Rep. Dean Phillips, the Minnesota Democrat who launched a longshot primary challenge against the president, is barely a blip on the radar. Allies of President Joe Biden barely acknowledged Phillips’ formal entrance into the race this week. In a prepared response to Phillips’ announcement, Biden 2024 campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz did not even mention him by name. Phillips told reporters Friday that he tried to speak to Biden by phone on Thursday, but the president did not take his call. Phillips also tried to call Biden three months ago, when he first considered entering the race. Biden did not speak to him then, either.

Limited Attention

Phillips, a multimillionaire serving his third term in the House, registered Friday to appear on New Hampshire’s Democratic primary ballot. The Granite state is no longer the first primary for Democrats, however, after the Democratic National Committee approved a new calendar this year that put South Carolina first. More than a dozen Biden allies and campaign aides contacted by CNBC Friday to discuss Phillips’ challenge did not respond to requests for comment. But a few did.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said Phillips is “not mounting a serious or meaningful bid to be president of the United States.” “The stakes are too high in this election – especially for Black voters – to be focused on a side-show vanity project rather than what’s best for our party and our country,” Dickens wrote in an email to CNBC.

A Void Impact on Republicans

Phillips, for his part, insists that his running against Biden will not work to the advantage of the eventual Republican nominee, a field currently dominated by former President Donald Trump. “That conventional wisdom [that] a primary to a sitting president will help the alternative is nonsensical to me,” Phillips said Friday on Meet the Press Now.

Narrow Support

One of Phillips’ fellow members of Congress was a little easier on him. “I like and respect Dean,” said Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa. “But I’m a ‘Day One’ supporter of Joe Biden and that isn’t changing.” Both Boyle and Dickens serve on the Biden campaign’s national advisory board. Phillips is also a Biden supporter, judging from his voting record in Congress, which he stands by. “I admire the president. I voted for those policies because they’re good ones and they will be making a difference over time,” he told Meet the Press Now host Kristen Welker. This was the same point White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre made earlier in the week when asked about Phillips’ anticipated entry into the race.

For months, Phillips has been giving interviews suggesting that Biden, 80, is effectively too old to be president. Phillips has also said a competitive primary will ultimately make Biden a stronger candidate if the president wins. Still, it’s not clear exactly what Phillips hopes to accomplish with his run. “I’m not running against Joe Biden. I’m not running against President Biden,” he said on MTP Now.


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