Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips ends Democratic primary challenge and endorses President Joe Biden

Published 4:46 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2024

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ST. PAUL — U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota ended his long-shot 2024 Democratic presidential bid on Wednesday after failing to win a primary contest against President Joe Biden.

Phillips told WCCO Radio in Minneapolis that he was endorsing Biden, saying “there is only one choice” in an expected fall matchup with Republican Donald Trump.

Phillips, a 55-year-old multimillionaire who is among the richest members of Congress, built his White House bid around calls for a new generation of Democratic leadership while spending freely from his personal fortune. But the little-known congressman ultimately failed to resonate with the party’s voters.

Phillips was the only elected Democrat to challenge Biden for the presidency. Phillips’ failure to gain traction is further proof that Democratic voters are behind the 81-year-old Biden even if many have misgivings about his age or his reelection prospects.

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The president has long cast himself as uniquely qualified to beat Trump again, and Biden’s reelection campaign largely ignored Phillips except to point out that the congressman voted with the administration nearly 100% of the time in Congress.

Phillips often argued Biden was too old to serve a second term. But in a social media post Wednesday, Phillips noted that Biden had once visited his home while Biden was vice president and that his “decency and wisdom were rarities in politics then, and even more so today.”

Phillips said in the WCCO interview that while he thinks Biden “is at a stage in life where his capacities are diminished, he is still a man of competency and decency and integrity. And the alternative, Donald Trump is a very dangerous, dangerous man.”

The congressman’s endorsement of Biden foreclosed the prospects of third-party challenge by Phillips on a potential No Labels ticket. But he said he hopes Nikki Haley, the last major Trump rival on the Republican side, who suspended her campaign Wednesday, considers an independent bid. Phillips said that would draw votes away from Trump and help Biden’s reelection chances, while other independents in the race would just peel off Biden votes and aid Trump.

“I believe wholeheartedly, effusively, there is only one choice, and that is Joe Biden. … At the end of the day, this is really a very stark choice and a very simple contrast,” Phillips said.

A centerpiece of Phillips’ campaign to upset Biden was in New Hampshire, where he campaigned hard, hoping to capitalize on state Democrats’ frustration over a new plan by the Democratic National Committee, championed by Biden, reordering the party’s 2024 presidential primary calendar by leading off with South Carolina on Feb. 3.

But instead of pulling off a New Hampshire surprise, Phillips finished a distant second in the state’s unsanctioned primary, behind a write-in campaign in which Democrats voted for Biden despite his name not appearing on the ballot.

After that defeat, Phillips pressed on to South Carolina and the primary’s formal start. But the DNC didn’t schedule any primary debates, and some states’ Democratic parties, including North Carolina and Florida, are not even planning to hold primaries — making it even more difficult to challenge the sitting president. Phillips lost South Carolina and every other state in which he competed.

Before Minnesota’s primary on Super Tuesday, hardly any of nearly two dozen Democratic voters interviewed in Phillips’ congressional district mentioned his presidential campaign. James Calderaro of Hopkins knew Phillips was a candidate but dismissed him as “a distraction.” Calderaro and others said they were backing Biden for the best chance of stopping Trump in November.

Phillips finished a distant third in the Minnesota primary with about 8% of the vote, compared with about 19% for “uncommitted” and 71% for Biden.

Phillips has already announced he’s not seeking reelection in his suburban Minneapolis congressional district. He is heir to his stepfather’s Phillips Distilling Co. empire and served as that company’s president, but he also ran the gelato maker Talenti. His grandmother was Pauline Phillips, better known as the advice columnist Dear Abby.

Driving a gelato truck helped Phillips win his first House campaign in 2018, when he unseated five-term Republican Erik Paulsen. While Phillips’ district in mostly affluent greater Minneapolis has become more Democratic-leaning, he stressed that he is a moderate focused on his suburban constituents.

While running for president, however, Phillips moved further to the left, endorsing fully government-funded health care through “Medicare for All.”