Biden challenger Phillips, in New Hampshire, calls president ‘weak’

By Steve Holland

NASHUA, New Hampshire (Reuters) -U.S. Representative Dean Phillips, attempting a longshot bid for the Democratic nomination, assailed Joe Biden as “unelectable and weak” on Saturday as he tried to take advantage of the president’s absence from New Hampshire’s primary.

Biden did not register for the New Hampshire after national Democrats opted to move their first primary to South Carolina, which offers a more diverse population.

But Biden’s supporters are mounting a write-in campaign in New Hampshire to ensure a win in the state on Tuesday, and a CNN/University of New Hampshire poll released on Sunday showed Biden drawing 63% of the primary vote in that state, with Phillips at 10%.

The Democratic National Committee has ruled that the New Hampshire election effectively won’t count and the winner won’t amass New Hampshire’s 23 delegates in the march to the party’s nomination.

Phillips, a wealthy Democrat from Minnesota, said during a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire, that he hoped to do well in Tuesday’s voting.

Phillips said a strong showing by him would be getting upwards of 20% or more of the vote – “going from zero to somewhere in the 20s would be pretty awesome, I think.”

“Sadly it’s going to demonstrate that our incumbent president is unelectable and weak and I think it’s going to show this country that there’s a candidate here who can actually do here what has been promised for generations,” Phillips told reporters after addressing dozens of people at a senior citizen activity center.

He also noted Biden’s age, 81.

“If you listen to the voters, people feel he’s at a stage of life that makes it incompatible to leading the free world. And the same is true of Donald Trump,” said Phillips, 55.

Trump, 77, is the leading Republican candidate. The former president was defeated by Biden in his bid for a second term in 2020.

The White House has repeatedly dismissed concerns about Biden’s age, though polls show voters are concerned about it.

“Our perspective is that it’s not about age, it’s about the president’s experience,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Biden’s 81st birthday. “We have to judge him by what he’s done, not by his numbers.”

The Biden re-election campaign did not respond to a request for comment and has avoided commenting directly on Phillips’s challenge. When the congressman launched his challenge in October, it issued a statement saying Biden’s “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.”

Minnesota’s Democratic Governor, Tim Walz, in a fundraising email at the time said: “You know, I have to say this about Minnesota: it’s a great state, full of great people. And sometimes they do crazy things.”

The New Hampshire primary on Jan. 23 offers the first at-the-polls gauge of Biden’s political strength this election cycle, and the unprecedented situation will be closely watched amid polls showing him tied with Trump.

A poor showing by Biden against Phillips and self-help author Marianne Williamson would likely fuel concerns that Biden is weak heading into the general election.

Both Phillips and Williamson appeared to have little chance of defeating Biden.

Backers of the write-in campaign are staging events throughout the weekend to educate voters on how to write in Biden’s name and generate support for him.

Williamson told several dozen people at an event in Manchester that she also felt Biden was weak and questioned the wisdom of nominating him for a second term just because he beat Trump in 2020.

“To say he beat Trump once and therefore he’ll beat him again – for me it’s like saying to an actor who’s nominated for an Oscar twice. ‘He won last time so it’s only reasonable to think he’ll win this time. Well, it’s a different movie,” she said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Sandra Maler and Deepa Babington)