By Steve Holland
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden won an unusual Democratic write-in vote in New Hampshire’s primary election on Tuesday, an important display of political strength, despite his name not being on the ballot.
Edison Research projected Biden the winner over two Democrats whose names were actually on the ballot – U.S. Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota and self-help author Marianne Williamson.
The victory for the incumbent president was the end product of a fervent write-in campaign orchestrated by New Hampshire Democrats, who were troubled by the national party’s decision to send the state’s first-in-the-nation primary election to more diverse South Carolina.
“I want to thank all those who wrote my name in this evening in New Hampshire. It was a historic demonstration of commitment to our democratic process,” Biden said in a statement.
At a watch party by organizers of the write-in campaign, some in the audience booed when the speakers noted that New Hampshire’s proud tradition of vetting Democratic candidates had been ended by the Democratic National Committee.
But the crowd cheered when it appeared Biden was going to do well.
Matt Wilhelm, a Democratic state representative, said the write-in campaign was “certainly unconventional,” but effective.
“Together we sent a clear message that we are going to fight for our democracy, we are going to fight for our fundamental freedoms and we are going to fight to re-elect Joe Biden in November,” he said.
Biden had about 68% of the vote with 40% of the write-in counted, while Phillips had about 20%.
The 55-year Democrat had said in the days leading up to Election Day that he would continue his campaign. He has argued that Biden is weak and unelectable and vulnerable to defeat by the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump.
At the Phillips watch party in Manchester, Phillips extended his congratulations to Biden but said he won “by no means in a way that a strong incumbent president should.”
He also congratulated Trump for winning the Republican vote.
A statement from the Biden campaign made no mention of the write-in but looked ahead to the general election battle.
“While we work toward November 2024, one thing is increasingly clear today: Donald Trump is headed straight into a general election matchup where he’ll face the only person to have ever beaten him at the ballot box: Joe Biden,” the statement said.
Biden had supported the move by national Democrats to move their first primary election to South Carolina.
Whether his victory will be seen as sufficiently strong will likely be debated by his rivals.
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%.
Democratic supporters had sought to temper expectations. They pointed to the 39% support that Senator Lisa Murkowski won during a write-in election in 2010 as a sign of what Biden might achieve.
With Trump’s nomination seemingly imminent, Biden’s campaign announced two of the president’s top advisers, Mike Donilon and Jen O’Malley Dillon, will leave the White House for his reelection campaign next month. The move followed criticism from some Democrats that his campaign needed a jolt.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Howard Goller)