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Ignored by Biden, NH Democrats still working to give him a lift on Primary Day

People hand out yard signs promoting the Write In Biden campaign
Josh Rogers
/
NHPR
Volunteers distribute yard signs promoting the "Write In Biden" effort at a New Hampshire Democratic Party fundraiser, Dec. 1, 2023.

There are moments when this year’s New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary can almost feel normal. Case in point: Last Saturday, when Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey swung through the state to deliver a series of pre-primary pep talks to local Democrats. Her message was straightforward: Let’s run up the vote total for Joe Biden on Primary Day.

“Let’s have an overwhelming showing, like never seen before,” Healy told dozens of activists gathered in a Concord elementary school cafeteria. “And let that send a signal across the country — because people pay attention to New Hampshire.”

But President Biden himself isn’t paying attention to New Hampshire — at least not when it comes to primary politics. Biden is skipping the New Hampshire primary altogether this year, declining to even put his name on the state ballot. That decision stemmed from New Hampshire’s refusal to follow the Democratic National Committee’s calendar — rolled out last year and supported by Biden himself — that put South Carolina at the head of the party’s 2024 nominating queue.

That scheduling decision represented something of a gut punch to local Democrats, and was by far the most overt effort by national party leaders to remove New Hampshire from the top of the primary calendar, once and for all.

But it has also shaped, maybe even warped, the 2024 primary here for months, prompting some local Democrats to mount a write-in campaign on the president’s behalf — something that hasn’t been seen in decades.

Less than two weeks from Primary Day, that write-in effort is taking several forms. A Write-in-Biden political action committee is spending thousands of dollars on commercials airing on New Hampshire televisions. The ads instruct Granite State voters, step by step, through the write-in process: “Start at the bottom of the ballot, fill In the oval…”

A separate entity, meanwhile, is focusing on face-to-face gatherings and Zoom meetups, and is deploying volunteers to any event where Democrats might congregate.

Maura Willing of Concord was one of those volunteers putting the arm on attendees at a state Democratic party fundraiser last month.

“I will do whatever I can to help that process because I am a true Democrat,” Willing said of the write-in effort.

Willing backed Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren over Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary, but she said her view of Biden changed since she first encountered him running for president.

“I remember at the time thinking, ‘What a sweet old man,’ ” Willing said. “And now — he’s a good president. And I don’t have a problem with him not thinking we’re the most important thing on the planet, but as a New Hampshire voter, I want to show him that we’ve got his back.”

Polling indicates New Hampshire Democrats voters may have Biden’s back. A CNN poll released this week found 69% of likely Democratic primary voters here intend to write-in Biden. But how many Democrats will turn out on Primary Day in the first place is an open question.

There will be other Democrats on the ballot that day. Two of them — Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and celebrity author Marianne Williamson — in fact were in Manchester for a debate at a college convention Tuesday. They directed most of their fire at Biden, not each other.

“[Biden] is taking the Granite State for granted,” Phillips told the crowd of mostly college students. “He is taking this election for granted, and he is taking every single one of you, and this entire country, for granted.”

In fact, it isn’t hard to find some degree of discontent with Biden among New Hampshire Democrats these days. George Bruno, a former state Democratic Party chairman who recently became a registered independent so he can vote against Donald Trump in the Republican primary, said he thinks Biden has done a fine job leading the country. But he questions Biden’s decision to seek reelection.

“I never thought of him as a two-term, eight-year president, and I was kind of hoping that there was going to be more competition for the nomination this year, and I regret that there isn’t,” Bruno said.

That lack of competition — no poll shows Phillips or Williamson posing any threat to Biden — is fine with those working the write-in Biden campaign. And Biden backers, like Concord lobbyist Jim Demers, insist they aren’t shooting for any specific outcome next week, other than winning.

Demers says one reason he got involved in the write-in effort was to make the case — via a strong Biden showing here — that New Hampshire deserves to return to the front of the DNC’s official nominating calendar in 2028. That may seem a distant prospect, given the recent sparring between the state and local parties. But for right now, Demers says the bottom line goal is to give Biden — and Democrats generally — something to build on after the Jan. 23 primary.

“No matter what, I think this really does lay the foundation because it's getting people engaged,” Demers said. “It's organizing people. And I think it will all be helpful when the November election comes about.”

That’s something pretty much every New Hampshire Democrat — whether they are backing Biden’s write-in or not — will tell you they’d welcome.

Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.
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