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Biden wins NH primary through a write-in effort after declining to campaign there

The headquarters of the write-in Joe Biden campaign at the Puritan Backroom in Manchester
Rebecca Lavoie
The scene at the Manchester headquarters of the write-in Joe Biden campaign Tuesday night.

It’s been nearly two years since he set foot in the state, and his name was nowhere to be found on the ballot, but President Joe Biden scored a rare write-in victory in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary Tuesday.

Though final numbers were not available as of 9:30 p.m. and election workers were still tallying a mountain of write-in ballots, Biden seemed poised to notch a definitive majority. At local polling places, many Democratic voters said they wrote in his name as a way to boost his chances heading into an anticipated rematch with former President Donald Trump.

“I like [Biden]; I've always liked him,” said Gail Ellis, who cast her ballot for Biden in Windham. “I think he's a good person, I think he's a good president, and we need him to beat Trump.”

After a disappointing fifth-place finish in 2020, Biden skipped the New Hampshire primary this year due to the state’s unwillingness to comply with a new nominating calendar set by the Democratic National Committee. Aiming in large part to elevate a more racially diverse electorate, Biden and national Democrats opted to make South Carolina the official leadoff voting state this year. New Hampshire would, under the DNC’s calendar, share the second-place primary with Nevada, one week later.

That scheduling decision was a blow to local Democrats who had guarded New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation status for decades. And, after years of grumbling from those who viewed New Hampshire as a poor reflection of the party’s broader voting base, it was by far the most overt effort to remove New Hampshire from the top of the primary calendar, once and for all.

Yet even as New Hampshire Democrats forcefully opposed the calendar realignment, many of the party’s local leaders nonetheless rallied to Biden’s defense as primary day neared, mounting a carefully organized write-in campaign on his behalf.

That campaign took several forms. A political action committee ran ads detailing step-by-step instructions on how to add the president’s name to the ballot, while a separate group focused on more traditional organizing — corralling voters online and in-person to commit to cast a ballot for Biden. Beyond saving the incumbent from embarrassment at the polls, the movement also allowed local Democrats to lay a foundation for their eventual general election get-out-the-vote efforts.

While polling suggested Biden could rely on a solid base of support among New Hampshire Democrats, just how many people would turn out on primary day remained an open question heading into Tuesday.

In Laconia, voter Deborah Sekou said she wished Biden was actually on the ballot — but that didn’t deter her from supporting him.

“It is what it is,” she said. “And I figured, I know who I’m supporting, so I wrote his name in, with no problem at all.”

There were, of course, other Democrats on the ballot Tuesday. Two of them — Minnesota Congressman Dean Phillips and celebrity author Marianne Williamson — invested considerable time campaigning in New Hampshire in the final weeks of the primary. Though when the two met to debate at a recent college student convention, they mostly directed their attacks at the president — not each other.

Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips speaks to supporters at the Manchester Millyard Museum, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.
Felix Poon
Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips speaks to supporters at the Manchester Millyard Museum, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

As the primary neared, Phillips in particular sharpened his critique of the incumbent.

“If he wrote you off, why would you write him in?” he asked attendees at a campaign event he hosted Saturday in Nashua.

Throughout his campaign, Phillips cast himself as a bipartisan problem solver who could bring the generational shift in leadership the country needs. Speaking to supporters at the Millyard Museum in Manchester Tuesday evening, Phillips suggested he still had plenty of room to grow in his candidacy.

“We just earned 20 percent tonight," he said, "and no one knew who we were 10 weeks ago."

Williamson, who was running in her second New Hampshire primary, vowed to take on corruption within the political system — including, she argued, the DNC’s efforts to diminish the role of New Hampshire voters.

“It is extremely important what we do in the next three days to give a message to our fellow citizens, and particularly to this elitist, smug institution,” Williamson said.