Minnesota Congressman Dean Philips is gunning for Biden's presidential nomination

With an official announcement looming and a campaign bus already on the road, what does the onetime gelato mogul hope to accomplish?

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and his dog Henry walk down the House steps of the Capitol
Phillips' voters "probably won’t actually want him to win; instead, they will use him to send a clear message to the party: anyone but Biden."
(Image credit: Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

For someone with a relatively low national profile, there's a fairly good chance that Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips has, in a subtle, unaccountable way, been present in more people's lives than most other members of Congress. Before his foray into federal politics, Phillips sat at the helm of some of the most ubiquitous consumer brands on the market: from the liquor distillery that bears his family name to the high-end Talenti gelato line that's become one of the biggest of its kind in the nation, Phillips' pre-political business successes have elevated the three-term representative into the uppermost echelons of congressional wealth, according to Fortune, with a net worth in the vicinity of $77 million dollars. 

Describing himself as a "centrist" in a 2017 interview with Forbes, Phillips has been a steadfast team player since entering Congress, voting in line with President Joe Biden's position 100% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. But that adherence to the party line seems poised to end this week, with Phillips widely expected to announce his long hinted-at bid to challenge Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination "[this] Friday in New Hampshire" according to a source who spoke with Minnesota's WCCO radio host Chad Hartman. A Dean Phillips for President bus has already been spotted cruising Ohio's freeways, and — while currently inoperable — the Dean24.com website displayed on the vehicle's side was registered earlier this month.

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Phillips' entry into the Democratic primary, while perhaps not as splashy as that of (now-Independent) Robert F. Kennedy Jr., represents the most grounded, realistic threat to Biden's reelection bid. And while that threat remains, for now, extremely remote and ineffectual, Phillips' candidacy — based in part on concerns about Biden's advanced age — will nevertheless change the dynamics of the already contentious 2024 presidential race, largely against the wishes of his own party. 

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'Maybe he should go out and buy a sports car'

People are "super annoyed" about Phillips, centrist democratic group Third Way vice president Matt Bennett told The Wall Street Journal, arguing that "The most he can do is hurt Biden by making the Republicans’ case for him." Moreover, by challenging Biden, Phillips is putting his own congressional tenure at risk, and wouldn't be "viable again as a Democrat" in Minnesota, where he flipped his 3rd congressional district blue for the first time since the 1950s. "If this is a midlife crisis," one Minnesota Democrat told the paper, "maybe he should go out and buy a sports car."

While Phillips has "no chance of winning his party’s nomination," Biden still should "not rest easy," The Washington Post's Henry Olsen wrote on Wednesday. The congressman "might not be a serious candidate, but he is a serious threat" since he "need only present himself as a receptacle" for the very real sense of dissatisfaction with the current administration. Phillips' voters "probably won’t actually want him to win; instead, they will use him to send a clear message to the party: anyone but Biden."

Phillips can "do whatever he wishes to do," New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Raymond Buckley told Minnesota Public Radio. But, he cautioned, "the voters of New Hampshire pretty much decide what they're going to do."

'It just doesn’t make sense'

While some have worried that Phillips' challenge could pose problems for Biden's campaign down the road, other Democratic insiders are less pessimistic. Describing any campaign as "quixotic," one Democratic congressional staffer stressed to HuffPost that a "third-term congressman who votes with the president 100% of the time, has little name recognition and touts a knock-off Trump slogan doesn’t really strike fear in anyone’s heart." Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was similarly blunt, telling the outlet that a Phillips run "just doesn't make sense." 

If Phillips doesn't truly believe he can be president now, then "is this ground-laying — the staffing up, the bus — just theatrics aimed at elevating his profile or his point about the gerontocracy?" Vanity Fair's Eric Lutz wrote this week. 

Noting that there hasn't been a presidential incumbent toppled by a challenger in modern times, WCCO radio pointed out that the most recent challenge of the sort by Pat Buchanan in 1992 "helped divide the Republicans who eventually lost the presidency to Democrats and Bill Clinton."

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