A lot of people learned who Dean Phillips is last week.
The three-term Minnesota congressman launched a late, long-shot bid for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination on Friday, saying the move is about ushering in a new generation of leadership and a candidate who can best Donald Trump.
“My friends, it is time for a change, and I am ready to lead our great nation to a secure and a more prosperous future,” Phillips said upon making the announcement. “I do so not in opposition to President [Joe] Biden, who has my affection and my gratitude, rather with two core convictions.”
The first of those convictions, he continued, is that he is the Democratic candidate who can win the 2024 presidential election. The second, perhaps related, conviction is that it is “time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of American leaders.”
At 54, Phillips aims to contrast his relative youth with the 80-year-old Biden, in much the same way that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, 51, says it’s time for Republicans to move on from the 77-year-old Trump.
There are a lot of moving parts in the situation, and it’s unclear what impact, if any, Phillips’s late entry into the race will have on Biden.
Phillips signed up to run in the New Hampshire Democratic primary on the last possible day. But Biden’s name will not appear on the New Hampshire ballot because the state is not playing along with the Democratic National Committee’s plan to strip it of its status as the nation’s first primary.
So Phillips may nominally win the state, though it would be largely symbolic. He has entered the contest too late to qualify for some other party primaries, such as Nevada’s.
Still, New Hampshire-based Republican strategist David Carney thinks Phillips could leave an impression.
“There’s a lot of angst in New Hampshire over the president treating the first-in-the-nation primary as a disposable idea,” Carney said. “That’s going to hurt Biden. We’ll see whether it hurts him in the general.”
Phillips has snagged the support of Bill Shaheen, husband of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), who Carney describes as a major player in the state’s Democratic Party.
Biden’s new challenger may hope to have the same impact that Eugene McCarthy had in 1968. The Minnesota senator drew a surprising 42% in that year’s New Hampshire primary, helping to convince Lyndon Baines Johnson not to seek reelection.
“[The Phillips campaign] should send a wake-up call to Biden,” Carney said.
When asked about Phillips, the Biden campaign sent a statement that did not reference his new challenger.
“President Biden is proud of the historic, unified support he has from across the Democratic party for his reelection,” campaign spokesman Kevin Munoz said. “The stakes of next year’s election could not be higher for the American people, and the campaign is hard at work mobilizing the winning coalition that President Biden can uniquely bring together to once again beat the MAGA Republicans next November.”
Efforts to contact Phillips’s campaign for comment were unsuccessful.
Aside from the age difference, Phillips is running slightly to Biden’s right on policy matters. He says he’s unafraid to speak out about rising crime and rampant illegal immigration at the southern border. Those stances could provide a counterbalance to headline-grabbing Democrats to Biden’s left, such as the House’s “Squad” members, especially if the Phillips campaign gets polling traction.
But the boldest stance of all may simply be Phillips entering the race.
Phillips is independently wealthy through his ownership of several companies including Talenti Gelato. He was elected to office in 2018 in a district encompassing suburban Minneapolis that had been in Republican hands since the late 1950s. Phillips won it by running as a centrist who could appeal to suburbanites turned off by Trump.
He spent the ensuing years climbing the Democratic House leadership ladder, reaching co-chair of the policy and communications committee. That climb ended when Phillips stepped down on Oct. 1 in anticipation of his presidential campaign.
If the run alienates him from his fellow Democrats, Phillips seems to think they are the ones with a problem.
“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,” he said in a CBS interview.
University of Minnesota politics professor Larry Jacobs says the move is in character for Phillips, who prides himself on being outspoken, yet baffling at the same time.
“Taking on a sitting president and criticizing him on the main talking point that Republicans are using is really hurting him with Democrats, both here in Minnesota and nationally,” Jacobs said. “Why is he doing that, other than satisfying his own sense of righteousness? It doesn’t really have any grounding in reality.”
Calling the campaign “a lark,” Jacobs points to Phillips’s lack of staff and to the fact that he’s missed multiple qualification deadlines as evidence that his candidacy was not well thought out.
To the extent that it affects Biden, Jacobs thinks the Phillips campaign will be negative. That’s a sentiment he shares with 720 Strategies partner Tom Cochran, who compared it with recent chaos across the aisle.
“It’s disappointing that Phillips considers this moonshot effort worthy,” Cochran said. “Given the dysfunction demonstrated by the GOP’s House cluster, now would be a better time to show unity and strength as a party.”