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New Hampshire Primary Will Show Biden’s Weak, Says Rival Phillips

(Bloomberg) -- US Representative Dean Phillips set low expectations for his long-shot campaign to upset President Joe Biden for the Democratic party’s nomination in New Hampshire, saying anything less than 80% by the incumbent president — who is running as a write-in — should serve as a warning sign for Democrats.

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“An incumbent president who is known to every single voter in this state should receive 80% if he’s strong. I don’t think he will be,” Phillips said at a Bloomberg News roundtable in Manchester, New Hampshire on Monday.

Phillips, in his third term as a congressman from Minnesota, has defied his party’s establishment with an insurgent campaign against the Democratic standard-bearer.

Even a surprise upset victory against Biden in New Hampshire would be only symbolic. Biden is not campaigning in the state and isn’t appearing on the ballot, although he will be a write-in candidate. Under rules that Biden pushed through the Democratic party last year, South Carolina’s Feb. 3 primary is the first contest that can award delegates to the party convention.

Despite that, Biden leads polls in New Hampshire as a write-in with 62.7% in the RealClearPolitics average, with Phillips trailing at 10.7%.

The Biden campaign declined to discuss its expectations in New Hampshire, citing the Democratic rules prohibiting candidates from campaigning there at risk of losing delegates.

President Bill Clinton received 84% in New Hampshire in his bid for a second nomination in 1996, and Barack Obama got 81% in 2012. But Lyndon Johnson got only 48% in New Hampshire in 1968 and decided not to run again, while Jimmy Carter got 47% and lost reelection.

But Jim Messina, who was campaign manager for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, said that “prediction game” is unfair, comparing Biden to incumbent presidents whose name appeared on the ballot.

Messina noted that there are few examples in history of write-in candidates winning in state-wide races. Most recently, Senator Lisa Murkowski waged a successful write-in campaign to keep her Alaska seat in 2010 after she lost the Republican primary to a more conservative candidate. She won 39% of the vote in a three-way race and was reelected.

But unlike Biden, Murkowski waged a hard-fought campaign that included education on how to write in a candidate — and even how to spell her name.

“Joe Biden and his campaign aren’t even participating in an effort to write his name in for this one,” Messina said. “The simple fact is that Joe Biden is going to be the party’s nominee.”

Representative Ann Kuster, a New Hampshire Democrat who is leading an independent effort to get voters to write in Biden’s name on Tuesday, called the Phillips campaign “ill advised” and “not well-timed.”

“I think it’s unimpressive in terms of the campaign that he put together,” she said in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

Phillips said he will campaign in South Carolina regardless of Tuesday’s result and would drop out only if the data showed there was no path to victory.

“I have every intention to support the Democratic nominee, period,” he said. But he also wouldn’t completely rule out a third-party run if he thought it was the only way to stop former President Donald Trump from returning to the White House.

--With assistance from Joe Mathieu, Kailey Leinz and Jordan Fabian.

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