President Joe Biden is headed to Minnesota to visit a family farm south of Minneapolis and hold a fundraiser with many of the state's top Democrats, aiming to demonstrate political influence in the turf of his new primary challenger. 2024. Representative Dean Phillips.
The president plans to announce more than $5 billion in spending to adapt agriculture to climate change, expand high-speed Internet access, improve local infrastructure and more. The money comes from infrastructure and inflation-reducing bills passed earlier during Biden's term.
"The president is acutely aware of the fact that equity must be at the center of what we do and everything we do," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He described the announcement as “an exciting opportunity to celebrate the importance of rural America.”
Biden's re-election campaign said the president's trip to Minnesota was planned before Phillips announced his candidacy. The congressman is the only elected official from the president's party campaigning against Biden for the White House.
Phillips is a 54-year-old moderate congressman from the mostly well-to-do and comfortably Democratic suburbs of Minneapolis. He has been saying since last year that Biden should not seek re-election and should instead step aside to make way for a new generation. He points to polls that show voters — including many Democrats — concerned about the age and electability of the 80-year-old president against Donald Trump, the former president and Republican front-runner.
Biden's trip, coming so soon after Phillips' announcement, will be an opportunity for the president to try to shut down any potential support for his nascent primary rival. Guests at Biden's fundraiser include former donors to Phillips' congressional campaigns, as well as Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.
Phillips' campaign will feel “almost like having a glass of cold water thrown in its face,” said Ken Martin, chairman of the Minnesota Democrats and vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Martin is a friend of Phillips and recruited him to run for his House seat. But if Phillips believes people are clamoring for alternatives to Biden, Martin said, “he may be the only one among Democratic Party leaders who thinks that way.”
“There really doesn't seem to be as much openness here, as much as he would like, or thinks there is, or should be,” he said.
Walz has been even more forceful in his defense of Biden, releasing a fundraising email on Friday on Biden's behalf before Phillips even formally entered the race titled "Minnesotans Love Joe Biden."
“I have to say this about Minnesota: It's a great state, full of wonderful people. And sometimes they do crazy things,” Walz wrote, like making “political side shows for themselves.”
An AP-NORC poll released in August found that the top words associated with Biden were “old” and “confusing.” Nearly 70% of Democrats and 77% of American adults said they thought Biden was too old to be effective for four more years.
Another Minnesota Democrat, Rep. Angie Craig, joined Phillips in suggesting Biden should not seek re-election before last year's midterm elections, but now says she supports the president. Dutch Creek Farms, which Biden visits Wednesday, is in Craig's district.
Meanwhile, prominent Black Democrats have criticized Phillips for focusing his initial campaign on overwhelmingly white New Hampshire, defying the new 2024 Democratic primary schedule championed by Biden that has South Carolina in first place. The measure aims to better empower Black and minority voters, but Biden also did much better as a 2020 Democratic primary candidate in South Carolina, which he won handily, than in New Hampshire, where he finished fifth.
“Any serious Democratic candidate would understand that black voters are the backbone of the Democratic Party,” said Mississippi Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson. He called Phillips' run for the White House “disrespectful of voters of color.”
The New Hampshire primary, which officials plan to hold in January before the South Carolina primary on Feb. 3, is not sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee. Biden will not appear on his ballot, but all of New Hampshire's state senators and other party leaders are leading a write-in campaign on the president's behalf.
“I welcome President Biden to Minnesota, where everyone is invited!” Phillips said in a statement about Biden's trip, referencing his campaign slogan. "I am grateful that the president chose to make a last-minute trip to our great state to discuss the pressing issues affecting everyday Americans."
He added that “I will not be able to welcome the president as I will be hosting my first town hall in New Hampshire, which is celebrating its 103rd anniversary of hosting the nation's first U.S. presidential primary.”
Biden's campaign issued a statement when Phillips announced his candidacy last week, saying he was "working hard to mobilize the winning coalition that President Biden can uniquely assemble." That's after ignoring previous primary challenges from self-help author Marianne Williamson and Robert Kennedy Jr., an anti-vaccine activist who ultimately switched from running as a Democrat to an independent.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on Biden's swipe at Phillips' home state, beyond telling reporters that "this president loves Minnesota."
Minnesota has not endorsed a Republican for president since Richard Nixon in 1972. Trump narrowly lost the state to Hillary Clinton in 2016 and spoke before the 2020 election of flipping the state before ultimately failing to do so. Democratic pollster Cornell Belcher said Biden will need to shore up Minnesota's support in 2024, comparing it to a swing state the president has visited more than any other: Pennsylvania.
“It's not a staunch, reliably blue state,” Belcher said. He noted that Minnesota is part of the Midwest blue wall that includes Michigan and Wisconsin, and Biden “has no chance if that blue wall doesn't stand.”
“We've seen that blue wall, in past elections, shake,” Belcher said.
Pennsylvania Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, who worked with Phillips as a member of the centrist House Problem Solvers Caucus and other legislative efforts, said she has “tremendous respect for Dean,” but “I feel like his likely platform would be very similar". to the platform that he has largely voted for, which is President Biden's legislative agenda and accomplishments.”
"I don't see a real differentiation," Houlahan said. He also called Phillips a "distraction" at a time when Democrats should back Biden "in a unified way to allow him and us to complete the work we have all started together."