PORTSMOUTH, NH — Like a doting lover reluctantly coming to the aid of an ex-partner in need, New Hampshire Democrats decided this month to help Joe Biden win his favorite primary — even though many are still mad enough to try to kill him.
“I love Joe Biden, I think he’s just been a great president,” said former state Democratic Party chairwoman Kathy Sullivan, who now runs a pro-Biden super PAC. “Having said that, I’m still upset. But you divide it. You put it aside.”
Last year, Biden sought to end New Hampshire’s 100-year reign as the nation’s first presidential state. directed To the Democratic National Committee Overhaul the 2024 master calendar South Carolina (which it won in 2020) ahead of New Hampshire (which it lost).
His allies now face what must be one of the most unusual presidential campaigns in American history ahead of next week’s vote: a low-budget write-in campaign on behalf of the world’s most powerful man, trying to help him win. a competition that he technically doesn’t compete in and wants to see doesn’t even exist.
New Hampshire, whose political class is as sacrosanct as the Red Sox, just went ahead and scheduled the primary right after the Iowa caucuses, essentially telling the DNC to go granite and even pound. threatening The committee is taking legal action. (As a result, the DNC said it would not place New Hampshire’s delegates at its summer nominating convention.)
“It’s safe to say the DNC is less popular in New Hampshire than the New York Yankees,” quipped state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, who recently ran for DNC chairman.
For Biden, the result of the confrontation is a strange no-win situation. According to the DNC, he is barred by party rules from participating in the Jan. 23 primary because it is officially “pointless.” The party will not recognize its results. And he hasn’t even put his name on the ballot, so his supporters have to write in his name.
But his performance against weak opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and self-help author Marianne Williamson will be seen as a measure of his political health at a time when Democrats are already worried about his campaign.
“It was a political mistake of the highest order because it was completely unnecessary and completely self-inflicted,” said the New Hampshire Democrat and Biden ally with decades of presidential experience, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.
So while some New Hampshire Democrats wanted to let Biden suffer for trying to take away his primary, the state’s party establishment began to realize they had to step in to help the president in the fall. he couldn’t.
Everything that hurt Biden, they concluded, helped GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
“It’s about the general election when you get it right,” said Democratic state Sen. David Watters, the leader of Biden’s correspondence effort. “There’s a lot to turn our noses up at or turn up our noses at in the first part.”
In some ways, New Hampshire’s Democratic primary will be the first real-world test of the strategy Democrats have been betting on all election: Whatever trouble Democratic-leaning voters have with Biden — and polls suggest they have a lot — if they mean the election of an Alternative Trump, we’ll ultimately pull the trigger for the president.
“I think the Democrats are going to come home,” said Terie Norelli, a former speaker of the New Hampshire House and another leader of the write-in effort. “If anyone is unhappy with the primary election, they should understand that democracy is at stake.”
‘doing something weird’
Biden found himself in this strange predicament last year as he tried to do what many Democrats said was long overdue: Unseat heavily white Iowa and New Hampshire and add more diversity to the presidential primary.
The Democratic National Committee, which essentially becomes the political arm of the White House when a Democrat is in office, He immediately approved Biden’s wishes. Iowa went down easily because it was already on the chopping block after disrupting the 2020 caucuses.
But the Granite State refused to budge. In Concord, which has a century of history, its swing-state status and a law that forces New Hampshire’s primary to be held a week before any other, Republicans who control the government have had no qualms about ignoring the DNC.
“We’re going first, and the law says so, because we’ve earned it,” Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said as the state set the date.
That brazenness triggered DNC rules prohibiting any presidential candidate from campaigning in any state with an unauthorized primary, and Biden complied. The rules barred him from spending money, giving a single speech, or even getting on the ballot in New Hampshire.
Democrats there have stepped into the void to help Biden — and hope, if they don’t say so publicly, that it will benefit Biden when the primary calendar comes up for review before 2028.
Their main goal is simple: make sure voters know how to write Biden’s name on the ballot. “Start at the bottom of the ballot, fill in the oval to ‘write in,'” one digital ad instructs: “Then write ‘Joe Biden’ on the line.”
They are doing so without any help or even express consent from Biden and the vast party infrastructure he commands.
“It’s a weird thing,” Watters said. “But I find it very liberating. Please, we can do whatever the hell we want.”
The Biden write-in effort has no field offices. There is no headquarters army. There is no rally. No TV commercials. Big spending by Phillips, the wealthy gelato magnate who partially self-financed his long-term primary challenge against Biden.
The primary write-in campaign has a budget of about $70,000—a comically small amount in modern presidential campaigns—which goes mostly to printing signs explaining the write-in process and covering the costs of one staffer and one part-time consultant.
The affiliated super PAC does not disclose its budget. But a source familiar with the effort said it had raised about $500,000 by mid-December. That’s enough to pay for some mailings and some digital ads, but not enough to run TV commercials or a real field operation.
“I wish we could, but I didn’t win the Powerball on Monday, so it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to get money for TV,” said Sullivan, who runs the super PAC.
By comparison, Phillips’ campaign spent $589,000 on TV ads in New Hampshire in the week between Christmas and New Year’s, according to AdImpact.
Phillips and Williamson tried to take advantage of Biden’s levity. They held debates in which they criticized his absence, and Phillips’ campaign put another $300,000 behind a television ad featuring him. Bigfoot is looking for Biden and mailed voters: “Joe deleted you. Why should you write him in?”
There are 21 other Democrats on the ballot — New Hampshire makes it easy to run for office — and Biden’s write-in slot is directly below him. Harmful Supremea perennial candidate known for wearing boots on his head.
Reading smoke alarms
Leaders of the write-in effort all insist they have nothing to do with the White House or the Biden campaign, but see signs of confirmation in the travel patterns of national Democrats close to Biden visiting the state.
When Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro and House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries spoke at the state’s Democratic fundraisers in the fall, many national Democrats — many of whom are on the Biden campaign’s national advisory board — pitched in to help write directly. making calls, speaking at events, or asking for donations.
Among the written supporters are US Reps. Ro Khanna of California and D-Md. Jamie Raskin, Sen. Cory Booker, DN.J. and there are Govs. JB Pritzker of Illinois and Maura Healey of Massachusetts stepped in to help with the direct write-in campaign.
“I don’t think any policy is ‘nonsensical,'” Raskin said at a press conference last Tuesday when asked about the DNC: “So I would take exception to that characterization. .”
Meanwhile, nine Biden Cabinet secretaries have visited the state in the past six weeks, including four last week alone. All came on official business touting new federal programs, and none mentioned major programs. But this is hardly the first time an administration has planned official trips with ulterior political motives, which is exactly how Granite State insiders view the trips.
“They don’t come here to ski,” said one New Hampshire Democratic strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak about the political implications of the official visits. “A ton of people just came.”
Still, some Biden allies in the state worry that the write-in effort will unnecessarily raise expectations for the president, arguing that it might be easier to stave off a disappointing showing in the primary if he can say he’s leaving the state. as a whole.
“They’re trying to have their cake and eat it too,” the veteran New Hampshire Democrat said. “They raise the stake unnecessarily.”
Recent Democratic presidents running for re-election have won north of 80% of the vote in state Democratic primaries (Barack Obama won 81% in 2012 and Bill Clinton won 84% in 1992). But, of course, their names were on the ballot.
Few people think Biden will get there because his supporters will have to write in his name and he has real opponents. But no one knows exactly what would qualify as a good showing for Biden in the Granite State.
Ultimately, most Democratic insiders say Biden shouldn’t just embarrass himself.
And New Hampshire Democrats, convinced that Biden is going nowhere, are careful to direct all their criticism at the DNC, not the president himself, praising the king’s ministers while feudal lords praise the man on the throne.
“I have no doubt that Joe Biden is committed to this state,” Watters said between coffees and meetings about the flood of new federal money pouring into his state thanks to legislation Biden has signed. “I think there was a lot of bad advice from the DNC.”