Rep. Dean Phillips Refuses To Rule Out Third-Party Run

HAMPTON, N.H. ― Speaking to voters in a restaurant in New Hampshire’s seacoast on Sunday, Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, once again refused to rule out the possibility of mounting a third-party bid under the banner of the centrist group, No Labels.

Asked about the idea by a member of the audience at his meet-and-greet event, Phillips responded by citing the possibility of circumstances in which it was the surest route to prevent former President Donald Trump from winning again. “I will do anything it takes as long as the data supports it to defeat the most dangerous man in the world,” he said.

A day earlier, Phillips told voters in Nashua something similar, saying that he would consider the idea only if Trump and President Joe Biden were headed for a rematch in which Biden is “almost certain to lose.”

On Sunday though, he also said that the prospect of the Democratic National Committee using heavy-handed tactics to prevent fair competition in the presidential primary might also be a factor. 

“I am a committed lifelong Democrat that believes deeply that I should pursue the process that is in place that is afforded to people who are willing to do so. And I intend to take it all the way through the convention,” he said. “But I am seeing the DNC employ practices that are not just anti-democratic, but I think despicable and dangerous and maybe even illegal. So if they are going to deny the opportunity to have a competition, I will keep going.”

Earlier on in the Q&A session, Phillips cited the case of the DNC asking the New Hampshire Democratic Party to instruct registered Democrats in the state that the primary is “meaningless.” New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella (R) responded by issuing the national party body a cease-and-desist letter, claiming that the request “constitutes an attempt to prevent or deter New Hampshire voters” from participating in the primary.

Biden will not be on the ballot in New Hampshire because the DNC, at his behest, took away the state’s first-in-the-nation status in an effort to bring more racial diversity to the early nominating contests. New Hampshire’s Republican-controlled legislature refused to move the date of its primaries though, allowing Phillips to run without Biden on the ballot. Biden’s loyalists are instead running a well-funded campaign to get Democrats to write Biden in as a show of strength against Phillips, whose central tenet for running is that polling shows Biden losing against Trump.

A recent poll showed Phillips trailing Biden 58% to 28% in the Democratic primary, though the poll did not account for the relative difficulty of remembering to write Biden in.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), seen here campaigning in Nashua on Saturday, is hoping to take advantage of President Joe Biden's absence from the ballot in New Hampshire.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), seen here campaigning in Nashua on Saturday, is hoping to take advantage of President Joe Biden's absence from the ballot in New Hampshire.

Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), seen here campaigning in Nashua on Saturday, is hoping to take advantage of President Joe Biden's absence from the ballot in New Hampshire.

Phillips has strong ties to No Labels as a member of the group’s moderate, bipartisan bloc in Congress, the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Democrats across the spectrum, including the moderate group Third Way, have gone on the warpath against No Labels’ threat of a third-party candidacy on the grounds that it would threaten Biden’s shot at the White House. These critics argue that a moderate compromise candidate of some kind would invariably take more votes from Biden than from Trump, who enjoys a loyal following and currently attracts little support from moderate voters. 

No Labels is struggling mightily to obtain ballot access in all 50 states, but last week it asked the Department of Justice to investigate efforts by Democrats to interfere with its efforts to get on the ballot. Also last week, the group’s founding chairman, former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), dangled the possibility of nominating former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley as their presidential candidate if she falls short in her bid for the Republican nomination. Haley’s campaign immediately dismissed the idea by saying that she has “no interest in No Labels.”

Phillips defended the group by noting that it only plans to run its own presidential ticket if Biden and Trump are the two major parties’ respective presidential nominees.

“If you vote for me and we start this thing with a huge shocker, we won’t have to worry about third-party candidates, because you know what? No Labels is only going to activate if it is a Biden and Trump matchup. So vote for me, let’s end [the] conversation about it!” he said, eliciting applause from the crowd of more than 50 people who assembled to see him.