Ethan Dewitt, New Hampshire Bulletin
January 23, 2024
Joe Biden is the winner of the New Hampshire Democratic primary – whether he wants it or not.
After a monthslong attempt by two candidates to topple the president in the Granite State, and Biden’s own decision to spurn the primary, the president rode a wave of write-in votes Tuesday to solidify his earliest – if least official – victory. Biden handily defeated his closest competitors, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson, according to projections from the Associated Press Tuesday night.
“This wasn’t easy. It wasn’t always pretty. And it was certainly unconventional,” said Matt Wilhelm, House Democratic Leader, at a victory party for the effort in Manchester. “But no matter what was thrown our way … we rallied, we mobilized, and we delivered a win for President Biden.”
The Democratic primary took an unusual twist when Biden declined to file his name on the New Hampshire Democratic ballot in October, citing a dispute between the state and the Democratic National Committee over the presidential nominating order. The DNC had approved a calendar in February that allowed South Carolina to vote first and New Hampshire to vote on the same day as Nevada; after New Hampshire officials rejected the plan, Biden chose not to participate in New Hampshire’s race. Because of that decision, Biden’s win will likely not count at the DNC’s convention in August.
The write-in ballots were still being counted in many areas of the state Tuesday evening and exact totals were not quickly available.
“Congratulations to President Biden who absolutely won tonight,” said Phillips at a speech shortly after the race was called, according to WMUR. Williamson did not have an immediate comment Tuesday evening.
Phillips and Williamson had tried to capitalize on Biden’s rejection of the primary, spending significant time in the state in the final weeks of the campaign. But New Hampshire-based supporters of Biden had organized a write-in campaign to elect him even without his cooperation, and a wave of surrogates including Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu fanned out to make the case for writing in Biden.
Brandishing a sign and speaking to the Bulletin outside the Manchester Ward 1 polling place, Driscoll called the write-in effort a way to honor the primary process while focusing on re-electing Biden in November.
“For me, this primary in New Hampshire is always going to be the first primary,” she said. “… And in this particular race, there’s a lot at stake. We can’t go backward as a country.”
A spokeswoman said she had come up to the state in the evening, after working a day at the Massachusetts statehouse.
In the final weeks, the Biden administration also sent a number of cabinet officials to the state, who are prohibited from official campaign activities by the Hatch Act. Those included Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack; each of the officials was there on official business not directly related to the Biden re-election effort.
But supporters of the write-in campaign argued it was locally targeted campaigning, not national figureheads, who made the difference Tuesday. At a results party at the Puritan Conference Center in Manchester Tuesday, state representatives and longtime Democratic advocates mingled, passing around congratulations on those efforts.
“It was just like a traditional New Hampshire first-in-the-nation primary: talking to voters face-to-face in their living rooms, having house parties and weekly Zoom meetings where we were connecting with people and then those people were reaching out to their friends and neighbors and spreading the message about how easy it is to write in Biden,” said Rep. Angela Brennan, a Bow Democrat. Brennan said the campaign used meetings of local and county Democrats to drive home the message that showing up to vote was still important.
For Liza Mulligan, the choice to show up to Concord Ward 4 to vote was easy. Her house is in sight of the polling place.
But the choice to write in Biden – during a primary in which the president chose not to participate – was about something bigger, Mulligan said: a way to show that he still commands support.
“I just want his name to be there,” she said, referring to her vote. “I think it’s important.”
Jock Irvine also voted for Biden, “even though he was kind of instrumental in not counting the Democratic primary in New Hampshire this year.”
It took Irvine a month to decide whether he should even bother. But in the end, Irvine thought it was important to give his vote to the person he believes can beat Donald Trump.
“We’ve done well under him, the economy’s improving, the Inflation Reduction Act has done a good job of reducing inflation, and he’s a statesman,” Irvine said, adding that his son would have benefitted from a student loan forgiveness program that was struck down by the Supreme Court in July.
Mulligan also praised Biden’s economic record, even while recognizing a potential messaging problem. “I actually think he’s done a good job with the economy,” she said. “I know a lot of people say ‘nah, nah, nah,’ but I think there’s solid stuff he’s done.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s results, town and city moderators had braced for a large influx of write-in ballots that would require hand counting; most larger polling places use machine tabulators. Manchester Ward 1 Moderator Aaron Losier said he had recruited volunteers to add up to 50 percent more staff to handle the more than 700 write-in ballots that were ultimately cast. But because most of those votes were for the same candidate, the process was manageable, if tedious.
“It’s not a super cumbersome job,” he said. “Because then you’re just counting those ballots.”
In the end, moderators in Concord and Manchester said the careful procedures in place had made the hand counting manageable.
“We’ve got the process down to – I don’t want to say a science – but as close to it as we possibly can,” said John Williams, the moderator for Concord Ward 4.
The write-in campaign also came against the backdrop of an at-times bitter standoff between New Hampshire and national Democrats. The DNC had already indicated that the primary is unsanctioned and will not result in delegates being awarded at the party convention in Chicago. On Jan. 5, a letter from two DNC officials calling the primary “meaningless” set off outrage among some Democrats in the state and resulted in a cease-and-desist letter from the Attorney General’s Office for alleged voter suppression.
Despite some of the tension, Jim Demers, a longtime political strategist in the state who helped lead the write-in effort, said the campaign was important to help keep Biden relevant and prominent, particularly ahead of a potentially bruising rematch with former President Donald Trump.
“If there hadn’t been a write-in campaign, there would be no activity at all for President Biden tonight,” he said in an interview at the victory party.
New Hampshire Bulletin is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. New Hampshire Bulletin maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Dana Wormald for questions: email@example.com. Follow New Hampshire Bulletin on Facebook and Twitter.