President Biden’s name won’t appear on the ballot in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.
His campaign has not been active in the state, and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has described the upcoming vote as “meaningless” in the scheme of choosing a nominee.
More than a dozen other candidates will appear on the Democratic ballot, including long-shot primary challengers Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips (Minn.).
And yet, strategists believe Biden will emerge victorious Tuesday, thanks to a grassroots write-in campaign that has been in the works for months.
“Joe Biden is going to win going away,” said Jim Merrill, a veteran GOP strategist based in New Hampshire. “And I think it’s a product of not only Dean Phillips’s failure to launch, but I think it’s also the core Democrat opinion leaders have all rallied around Joe Biden.”
A defeat or a close call in New Hampshire will likely fuel talk about Democrats’ discontent with Biden as their presumptive nominee. But those involved with the write-in effort believe a Biden victory, while only symbolic, would send a message about the president’s strength at the outset of an election year.
“I think it’ll reflect strong support for the president. I think people realize our democracy is at stake. Particular to New Hampshire, our freedoms are at stake,” said New Hampshire state Sen. David Watters (D), who has been involved in the write-in effort.
“I think people want to send a message,” he added. “Really what this is about for us, it’s the opening salvo in the general election, and we get to send the president out of New Hampshire with strong support.”
The DNC last year officially approved changes to the primary calendar to put South Carolina first, dislodging the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. But New Hampshire state law requires that the state go first, and the Republican-led Legislature was unreceptive to the DNC changes.
In a Jan. 5 letter, DNC officials wrote to the New Hampshire Democratic Party (NHDP) informing leadership that no delegates would be awarded based on the Jan. 23 primary.
“The NHDP must take steps to educate the public that January 23rd is a non-binding presidential preference event and is meaningless and the NHDP and presidential candidates should take all steps possible not to participate,” the DNC wrote.
To abide by DNC regulations, Biden and his campaign are not participating in the state’s primary, and they have not acknowledged the write-in effort.
Write-in organizers said the goal is simply for Biden to win on Tuesday, arguing a victory when he was not even on the ballot would be a success.
Democrats pointed to Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) successful write-in effort in 2010 when she won the general election with just 39 percent of the vote. Unlike Biden, Murkowski was directly involved with campaigning in her race.
Some New Hampshire Democrats began preparing last August for a possible conflict if the DNC changed its primary calendar while the Granite State stuck to its first in the nation law, Watters said.
Leaders of the write-in campaign attended more than 60 Democratic committee meetings and state party events over the past several months, speaking about why it was important to write-in Biden’s name on Jan. 23 and how to go about doing it.
Those involved with the effort have done press conferences, media hits and published op-eds urging New Hampshire voters to write in Biden.
Aaron Jacobs, a former staffer for Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), said there will be volunteers at polling places across the state Tuesday with “Write-in Biden” signs that have QR codes giving detailed instructions on how to properly vote for the president.
“Unlike a typical campaign where you can micromanage things centrally, we can’t,” Jacobs said. “The biggest part of this has been getting out to events, making the pitch and counting on [attendees] to be the multipliers.”
Biden’s main challengers, Williamson and Phillips, have comparatively spent significant time and money in New Hampshire meeting with voters and have been critical of Biden’s unwillingness to debate or otherwise engage with their campaigns.
But polling has suggested those long-shot efforts have not yielded much momentum heading into Tuesday’s vote. Biden aides are quick to point out Phillips in particular has sided with the president on almost every single policy issue.
A Jan. 9 University of New Hampshire poll found 69 percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they plan to write in Biden’s name, while 7 percent said they plan to vote for Phillips and 6 percent said they plan to vote for Williamson. The poll similarly found 67 percent of likely Democratic primary voters have a favorable view of Biden.
A Suffolk University poll released Jan. 10 found 64 percent of registered Democrats in the state said they planned to write in Biden, compared to 6 percent who backed Phillips and 2 percent who backed Williamson.
Biden allies argued the outcome of Tuesday’s primary will understate his overall support in the state, particularly since many independents will opt to vote in the more competitive GOP primary. The same Suffolk poll from early January found Biden leading former President Trump in New Hampshire by 7 percentage points in a hypothetical general election match-up.
“Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for president. Our campaign is focused on building an apparatus that’s going to be able to take on whatever extreme MAGA Republican that the Republicans nominate on here,” deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said on Fox News.
“The congressman from Minnesota has been very helpful to President Biden, voting with him almost 99 percent of the time to get real things done for the American people,” Fulks added. “So we thank him for his service.”