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'He didn't ask for our votes.' Some NH Democrats seek alternative to Biden in primary

A voter holds a "missing" poster of President Biden at a campaign stop for Congressman Dean Phillips in Hampton, Jan. 21, 2024.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
A voter holds a "missing" poster of President Biden at a campaign stop for Congressman Dean Phillips in Hampton, Jan. 21, 2024.

With President Joe Biden skipping the New Hampshire primary this year, his challengers for the Democratic nomination spent the weekend attacking him for it, as they made their final case to voters ahead of Tuesday’s election.

Biden's name won't appear on the ballot, after he and the Democratic National Committee decided South Carolina – rather than New Hampshire – should hold the first presidential primary of 2024.

The president’s supporters here are mounting a write-in campaign on his behalf. But speaking to a standing-room-only crowd in Nashua over the weekend, Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips said Biden is taking the state for granted.

“If he wrote you off, why would you write him in?” Phillips asked attendees.

Phillips cast himself as a bipartisan problem solver and said it’s time for Biden to step aside and let the next generation lead.

“I think we have two leaders of the past, sadly,” Phillips said, referring to Biden and former president Donald Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. “One a man of character, one a man who lacks character – but both men of the past.”

Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson speaks to voters at South Church in Portsmouth, Jan. 20, 2024.
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR
Democratic presidential candidate Marianne Williamson speaks to voters at South Church in Portsmouth, Jan. 20, 2024.

Speaking at Manchester Community College, author Marianne Williamson vowed to take on what she called a political system dominated by corporations and accused the DNC of usurping the role of New Hampshire voters.

“It is extremely important what we do in the next three days to give a message to our fellow citizens, and particularly to this elitist, smug institution,” Williamson said.

With Tuesday's primary approaching, some in the crowd were still making up their minds. Benjamin Bolger of Hanover was still figuring out whether to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary. He said he's looking for a candidate with a clear vision for the future.

“When President Kennedy had said, ‘we're going to put a man on the moon,’ the technology seemed almost impossible,” Bolger said. “And within a decade, we accomplished what seemed to be impossible. Recently, what amazing things have we accomplished?”

Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips talks to voters at the Nashua Senior Activity Center, Jan. 20, 2024.
Paul Cuno-Booth
/
NHPR
Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips talks to voters at the Nashua Senior Activity Center, Jan. 20, 2024.

At the Phillips event, Patrick Young, a teacher in Nashua, said he'd be fine with Biden for another term, but would prefer someone like Phillips.

“I voted for Joe Biden last time, and I love him and he's been wonderful and did a great job,” Young said. “He's also very old. And there comes a point in all humans’ lives when we have to realize that we're not capable of doing the things we did when we were younger.”

Young liked Phillips' ideas for raising teacher pay and a baby-bonds program to give every child $20,000 on graduating high school.

Biden's absence from New Hampshire this primary cycle was glaring to voters like Shannon Barnes of Merrimack, who turned out to see Phillips Saturday.

“This was a chance to, you know, gain our votes,” Barnes said of Biden. “And he didn't ask for them.”

Biden will be holding a campaign rally on Primary Day — but in Virginia, not New Hampshire, for an event focused on abortion rights.

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.