The moderate third-term congressman from Minnesota, who left his Democratic leadership post earlier this month, made his candidacy official during an interview with CBS News. Phillips plans to hold an official launch rally Friday in New Hampshire, where he will file Friday to appear on the state’s primary ballot.
“I think President Biden has done a spectacular job for our country, but it’s not about the past,” Phillips said. “This is an election about the future. I will not sit still. I will not be quiet in the face of numbers that are so clearly saying that we’re going to be facing an emergency next November.”
Phillips, 54, has for months encouraged someone with established credentials to run against Biden, 80, arguing that a younger Democratic alternative was needed. But after better-known Democrats passed, Phillips moved to make a last-minute bid for the party’s presidential nomination.
His campaign to unseat Biden is a longshot.
The Democratic National Committee does not plan to have primary debates in 2024, with an incumbent president on the ballot, and is operating as an extension of the Biden campaign.
Phillips already missed the filing deadline in Nevada, which has an early contest, and he will not be eligible to receive delegates in New Hampshire if he submits the paperwork to appear on that state’s primary ballot.
Phillips will also face the wrath of Democrats who would rather focus on winning the general election than fighting a messy intraparty war.
In anticipation of Phillips’ announcement, Democrats backing Biden’s reelection bid began pointing out the congressman has supported the president and his positions 100 percent of the time since he entered the White House.
Biden’s reelection team did not immediately comment. But the White House, which typically sidesteps election-related questions, used the line against Phillips this week.
“One thing I would say outside of that is we appreciate the congressman almost 100 — 100 percent support of this president as we — as he’s moved forward with some really important, key legislative priorities for the American people,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Speculation about a possible Phillips campaign for president has percolated for months and heightened after he resigned as co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee at the beginning of October.
A request by a group linked to his campaign to hold an event at the New Hampshire State Capitol was the first tangible sign Phillips was planning to move forward with a challenge. Earlier this week, a video of a “Dean Phillips for President” campaign bus surfaced on social media, furthering the speculation.
New Hampshire is in a fight with the Democratic Party over the timing of its primary, and Biden’s campaign announced Tuesday the president would not file to be a candidate there.
The national party voted earlier this year to shake up its primary calendar and strip New Hampshire of its storied first-in-the-nation primary status.
New Hampshire Secretary of State David Scanlon has insisted the state will go first, regardless. Assuming it does, the DNC emphasized Tuesday it will not allot delegates to any candidate who appears on the ballot.
The candidate with the most delegates at the end of the process will win the party’s nomination.
Self-help author Marianne Williamson is also seeking the Democratic nomination and filed this month in New Hampshire.
A third-term moderate with an independent streak
First elected to Congress in 2018, Phillips defeated a six-term incumbent Republican and flipped what was considered a stalwart conservative district. Since then, he’s fostered a reputation in the Capitol as a moderate committed to bipartisanship, joining the leadership of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
After the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker of the house, Phillips floated breaking with his party and striking a deal with Republicans to elect a new leader. He never did, and House Republicans voted to give Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., the gavel on Wednesday after spending three weeks in limbo.
Phillips’ most notable legislative achievement was the passage of the Paycheck Protection Program, which he co-authored with Texas Rep. Chip Roy. The law paid worker salaries and benefits at qualifying small businesses for up to eight weeks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a candidate, Phillips is expected to tout his background in business. He took over his family company, Phillips Distilling, opened a coffee shop in the Twin Cities and served as chair of Talenti Gelato for four years before he was elected to the House of Representatives.
In the House, Phillips sits on the Ethics and Foreign Affairs committees. He supports aid to Israel and Ukraine, and lauded Biden’s leadership on those issues as recently as last week.
“President Biden issued an outstanding speech this evening, making a strong case for why we must support Ukraine, Israel, and all who seek self-determination, security, and peace. That’s what America does,” Phillips said in a post on the social media platform X, formally known as Twitter, after the president’s Oval Office address.
Challenging an incumbent president
Phillips began calling for a Democratic challenger to Biden over the summer, raising alarm bells about the president’s support among Democratic and independent voters.
Specifically, Phillips cited concerns about the incumbent president’s age, arguing that Biden should step aside and let a new generation of leadership take over. Over 35% of Democratic and Independent voters said Biden’s age made them less likely to vote for him in a USA TODAY/Suffolk University survey published in June.
Other Democrats Phillips believed would be competitive candidates against Biden were afraid to take the leap, he said.
“Nobody is willing to take a step that might harm their future,” Phillips told Jake Tapper during a CNN appearance in August, discussing the reason for his opposition to Biden’s 2024 campaign. “This is not about re-election for me. This is about our country, the future of Democracy, and doing anything I possibly can to stop Donald Trump from returning to the White House.”
However, historically, modern presidents who fend off primary challengers tend to perform poorly in general elections.
With the exception of former President Richard Nixon, every sitting president since 1969 who has faced a primary opponent has lost the White House, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.