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Updated Dec 7, 2023, 5:15pm EST
politics

Biden primary foe Phillips will challenge states where he missed ballot

REUTERS/Reba Saldanha
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The Scoop

Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips will file challenges with the Democratic National Committee and several state parties next week, after Democrats in Florida, North Carolina, and Tennessee left him — and all other challengers to President Joe Biden — off of their ballots.

“Unilaterally taking away the right of rank and file Democrats, including a disproportionate number of Black voters demanding a more affordable America, is reprehensible,” Phillips said in a statement to Semafor. “If Joe Biden is the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and lead us to a safer, more affordable future, let him compete for that privilege without his supporters suppressing and disenfranchising millions of voters.”

The Phillips campaign met with the DNC in Washington on Thursday to discuss primary rules. It did not resolve a problem that emerged last month, when Florida Democrats canceled their March 19 primary.

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“I appreciated the meeting,” said Phillips strategist Jeff Weaver, who tangled with the DNC as campaign manager, then strategist, for Bernie Sanders’s two presidential bids. “It had helpful advice, none of which would have been useful in this situation.”

Ahead of their state convention, at the end of October, Florida Democratic Party chair Nikki Fried told Semafor that they had not heard from Phillips, author Marianne Williamson, or pundit Cenk Uygur, the three most prominent Democrats running against Biden. Delegates voted to put only Biden on their ballot; under Florida law, that meant that no primary would be held.

Phillips still hoped to make the Tennessee ballot, after submitting over 3,000 signatures for inclusion on Dec. 5. That same day, the Secretary of State in Nashville announced that only Biden would appear on the ballot, but that Phillips might make it, pending a review of the signatures. Four days earlier, North Carolina party chair Anderson Clayton sent a letter to the state board of elections, listing only Biden “for the 2024 Democratic Primary ballot.”

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The North Carolina Democratic Party did not respond to questions about its move, but Tennessee Democratic Party chairman Hendrell Remus told Semafor that party officials met on Nov. 11, affirmed that prior to that meeting the Biden campaign was the only campaign that had reached out to them that could be properly vetted before their deadline, then submitted a Biden-only primary list.

“We received no notifications from either state parties about their decision — despite being a FEC certified presidential campaign in the Democratic Primary since February of this year,” Marianne Williamson told Semafor. “The notification of their decisions came from the Tennessee Secretary of State and the North Carolina Board of Elections, respectively.”

North Carolina and Tennessee will hold their primaries on Super Tuesday; together, the three southern states will select 403 of the party’s 3,800 pledged delegates. While supporters of other candidates could write them in, the Phillips campaign will file “implementation challenges” that could lead to a reduction in the number of delegates — or no delegates being assigned at all.

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David’s view

The president is far ahead of Phillips et al in primary polls. The Biden campaign is ignoring its challengers — and the canceled Florida primary. The White House even blew off a question about this on Monday, citing the Hatch Act that prevents federal employees from taking a position on elections.

But two kinds of confusion are colliding in ways that are bad for both Biden and his challengers. Both Remus (Tennessee) and Fried (Florida) told me that they heard nothing from Phillips in the time frame — fairly obscure, unless you’re running for president — when candidates could submit for the ballot. Phillips, who has resisted attacking Biden, has unleashed fury on the Democratic Party itself.

“It is tragic to witness fundamental American democracy under attack not just from far-right MAGA Republicans, but the very establishment of our own Democratic Party,” he said in his statement today.

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The View From Other Democrats

Neither the Democratic National Committee nor the Biden campaign would comment directly on the primary kerfuffle, but Biden’s other challengers agreed with Phillips. Williamson said her campaign had made “countless attempts” to reach local Democrats, while Uygur called the ballot issue “idiotic” for everyone involved.

“We’re following every rule,” said Uygur. “We know the DNC is calling state parties to tell them to keep me off the ballot. But when they keep all us off the ballots, they’re showing their hand. There is no legitimate excuse for that. That’s just a desperate, authoritarian attempt to protect a very weak incumbent.”

The DNC had offered to meet with Phillips and other primary candidates before the filing deadlines, to talk them through the complex processes; no Biden challenger took them up. Tennessee State Sen. Jeff Yarbro, a Biden supporter, told Semafor that it was “pretty bizarre” that Phillips was “pitching stories about getting left off a ballot” while he submitted the signatures and tried, belatedly, to get on.

“Turns out if you just read the rules, you don’t have to cry that the process is rigged against you,” said Yarbo. “Anyway, I look forward to the president beating him by 50 points.”

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Notable

  • Ironically, Phillips launched his campaign in New Hampshire, where Biden is not on the ballot. Democrats have sanctioned the state party for violating its new primary schedule and the president is skipping it in response. The president’s supporters plan to mount a write-in campaign to ward off a potentially embarrassing Phillips victory.
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