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Dean Phillips’ primary challenge to President Biden stokes worry for Black America

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As U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., launches a Democratic primary challenge against President Joe Biden, Black political experts warn it will be a distraction they fear could hand Donald Trump the White House for another four years, putting Black Americans at risk.

Phillips, one of the wealthiest members of Congress and serving his third term, is an “absolutely unknown congressman to anyone outside of Minnesota,” said Christina M. Greer, political scientist and fellow at Moynihan Public Scholars at City College, New York (CUNY).

Left to right: Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., and President Joe Biden. (Photo: Getty Images)

The 54-year-old Congressman, who filed paperwork on Friday to be on the primary ballot in New Hampshire, said he respects President Biden, but stated that it is time for a generational change in the Democratic Party.

Citing polls that show Biden and former President Donald Trump neck and neck, Phillips said he believes he has the ability to win a general election, unlike the current 80-year-old president. 

“It appears the president is going to lose the next election,” Phillips told CNN’s Eva McKend. 

But Phillips’ run for president has already received pushback within the party and elsewhere, particularly from Black politicos and leaders.

Kevin Olasanoye, national political and organizing director at the Collective PAC, told theGrio, “I’m not sure what he provides as something different other than he looks younger than Joe Biden.”

He said Phillips, who voted for Biden’s legislative agenda 100% of the time, has “not offered anybody any legitimate criticism on the Democratic Party side about what the flaw in the Joe Biden candidacy for re-election is.”

Will Black voters support the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign?

Greer told theGrio that Phillips, as a white and wealthy man, could be “attractive” to some voters and donors in a way that women and candidates of color often struggle to navigate in campaigns.

“Demographically, he could be very good at fundraising, and people could be interested in him,” she said. “I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. But when it comes to white men and politics and their dreams, who knows?”

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens was more harsh in his criticism of Phillips. The “stakes are too high – especially for Black voters – to be focused on a side-show vanity project,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein reported Friday.

A voter is seen at the Metropolitan Library polling place on Election Day in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Dickens accused Phillips of “hosting an attention-seeking stunt that is deeply insulting to Black voters and the coalition that saved our country from Donald Trump, made Joe Biden president, and enabled the Biden-Harris administration to get more done for the American people than any administration in modern history.”

According to ABC News, Phillips also faced criticisms from the Congressional Black Caucus for not seeking their counsel and from the South Carolina Democratic Party for seemingly snubbing its primary on Feb. 3. He also has not filed to be on the ballot for the Feb. 6 Nevada primary.

The Democratic National Committee selected South Carolina as the new first primary contest of the 2024 election cycle. Prior to 2024, New Hampshire had been the first-in-the-nation primary since 1920. 

Despite controversy over the DNC’s decision to make South Carolina first to reflect the diversity of the party, specifically Black voters, New Hampshire will still hold its primary, likely on Jan. 23. 

For that reason, the Biden-Harris ticket won’t be on the ballot. However, Biden supporters in the state are campaigning for his name to be a write-in.

“When it comes to New Hampshire, you just don’t want this embarrassing loss for the president,” said Greer, who noted that Biden placed fifth in New Hampshire during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

She said of the Phillips campaign: “It’s really dangerous for him to distract the administration [and Biden campaign] that’s really trying to deal with the fact that their challenger could be Donald Trump.”

Former U.S. President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers remarks at a Nevada Republican volunteer recruiting event on July 8, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

While no one sees Phillips as having a legitimate shot at beating Biden in a primary contest, there is great worry that such a challenge could weaken a president who likely faces an uphill battle in a potential re-match against Trump.

“What he’s essentially doing is helping Donald Trump’s undisciplined campaign write their own negative ads using Democratic words,” said Greer. “You never want that to happen, especially when the stakes are so high, especially when we know that literally our democratic freedoms and principles are on the line if we don’t get this election correct in 2024.”

“This is like deja vu all over again,” said Olasanoye of the likely Biden-Trump contest on Nov. 5, 2024, that could result in the same outcome voters saw in 2016 when Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

“Our job is to do what we all coalesced around Joe Biden to do in 2020, which is to prevent another Trump presidency,” he continued. “Because of all the implications for what that would mean for our democracy.”

Why do most conservative voters of color still back Trump for president?

Olasanoye said Black Americans, in particular, stand to be harmed by the hypothetical second term of Trump, who “didn’t give a damn about Black people outside of the token gestures.”

“He’s not going to give a damn about student loan debt. He’s not going to care about public safety. He’s not going to care about creating ladders of opportunity for our kids and education,” Olasanoye said. “He’s not going to care about all the things that voters are saying they care about.”

Instead, he argued that Trump’s four criminal indictments and two impeachments would be focused on “grievance politics” amid a “revenge tour.”

Pontificating on a potential Trump 2024 win, Olasanoye added, “The same people who said that they were going to go to Canada and France in 2016 if he was elected, they ought to be figuring out how to get on Elon Musk’s rocket to the moon.”


Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!





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