ROCHESTER, NH — For the first time, Joe Biden has more active primary opponents in New Hampshire than Donald Trump.
One of them is Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips. One is Marianne Williamson. And one is the word “ceasefire,” which a group of progressive activists endorsed as a way to tell the president that his party wants to end support for Israel’s war in Gaza.
“You can veto a UN resolution in favor of a humanitarian ceasefire, but you can’t veto my vote,” former gubernatorial candidate Andru Volinsky told reporters on a call last week.
It’s one more complication in the quest for Democratic votes (which won’t count toward delegates) and unaffiliated voters who can pull a ballot for either party primary (essential for Nikki Haley’s chance to beat Donald Trump). The Vote Ceasefire effort gained visibility immediately, with supporters planting signs on highway medians and getting profiled by The Nation.
“If someone really wants to help the citizens of Gaza, if someone really wants to help change policy, you will vote for a candidate who stands for a ceasefire — which is me, by the way,” Williamson told Semafor after a town hall in Keene’s public library. “Writing in ‘ceasefire’ is not the way to do it.”
Williamson favors a halt to Israel’s military campaign, while Phillips has called for a negotiated end to the conflict. That stance earned him a protest at a Saturday stop in Nashua, and a skeptical voter question at a visit to the Democratic Party’s office here. Phillips said that the write-in campaigners had the wrong idea, and were protesting a Democrat who wanted a two-state solution and a “Marshall Plan” for Palestinians.
“How about voting for someone who actually wants to achieve the very objective that I know so many care deeply about?” he asked.
The stakes in this Democratic primary are low, and getting lower. Secretary of State David Scanlan predicted last week that only around 88,000 New Hampshire voters would participate in the primary — mostly registered party members, and a small number of unaffiliated voters. Far more unaffiliated voters, no matter who they supported in the past, were projected to vote in the GOP race.
Most Democrats expect the ad hoc Write-In Biden effort to succeed. Phillips, who invested $5 million of his own money in his campaign, told Semafor that a result in the 20s would be a “remarkable achievement.” The “write in ceasefire” campaign wants to change that math by maxing out the number of pure protest votes, shrinking the support for Biden’s named challengers.
It’s a moral stance, and it’s a media play, success largely dependent on how a protest vote is counted and covered. When the votes come in on Tuesday night, the number of write-in votes will be known before the names of the most successful write-in candidates; the number of ceasefire votes wouldn’t be known on election night.
The View From the Biden campaign
At a Saturday house party for Biden write-in advocates, California Rep. Ro Khanna told Semafor that he understood the frustration of ceasefire advocates — and he agreed with them on the policy. But he warned Democrats that a substantial protest vote would weaken Biden’s position without ending the war.
“Come to Capitol Hill. Come outside the White House and have your voice heard,” Khanna said. “And if you’re more progressive than the president, like I am, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to make that case to him. I have not shirked from when I disagree. But the way to do it is not to have him be weakened in a rematch with Donald Trump.”
The View From Voters
They’re still sorting this out. At the house party where Khanna spoke, Bobbi Blades said that she’d vote to support Biden. “I was so glad that he took immediate action because what happened on Oct. 7 was horrific,” she said, wearing a necklace that commemorated the victims of the attacks; her niece was a dual U.S./Israeli citizen, she explained, and had friends who were murdered that day.
But other Democrats liked the option of a ceasefire statement. Even some voters who said they’d likely vote for Biden if he became the nominee said that they were disappointed in the president.
“I told friends two weeks ago, after two margaritas, that I couldn’t possibly vote for Biden because of this Middle East thing,” said Sandy Keans, after hearing Phillips speak in Rochester. “But I’ll mellow out before Tuesday. And I’ll be sober.”