Joe Biden has won New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary, even though the incumbent refused to campaign in the state and had to rely on a write-in campaign powered by his allies and surrogates to secure a victory.
Leading up to election day in New Hampshire, much more attention was paid to the Republican presidential primary, in which Donald Trump easily defeated Nikki Haley. But the results of the Democratic primary could provide additional clues about the general election in November.
In a statement celebrating his win, Biden expressed gratitude toward his many supporters who wrote in his name and underscored the crucial importance of the general election, as it looks increasingly likely that Trump will win his party’s nomination.
“It is now clear that Donald Trump will be the Republican nominee. And my message to the country is the stakes could not be higher,” Biden said. “I want to thank all those who wrote my name in this evening in New Hampshire. It was a historic demonstration of commitment to our democratic process. And I want to say to all those Independents and Republicans who share our commitment to core values of our nation – our Democracy, our personal freedoms, an economy that gives everyone a fair shot – to join us as Americans.”
When the Associated Press called the race shortly after the last remaining polling places in New Hampshire closed at 8pm ET, it appeared that a clear majority of voters had cast ballots for write-in candidates. Most of those votes were expected to go to Biden, although some New Hampshire Democrats had planned to write in “ceasefire” to register their outrage over the war in Gaza and criticize US support for Israel’s military.
Biden’s two top rivals in New Hampshire, the Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips and the self-help author Marianne Williamson, trailed far behind. Responding to the New Hampshire results, the Biden campaign made clear that it was turning its attention to the general election in November.
“While we work toward November 2024, one thing is increasingly clear today: Donald Trump is headed straight into a general election matchup where he’ll face the only person to have ever beaten him at the ballot box: Joe Biden,” said Julie Chávez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager.
The primary followed months of heated disagreement between New Hampshire Democrats and the national party over the primary calendar. The Democratic National Committee decided last year to make South Carolina the first voting state, a move that upended a century-old tradition of New Hampshire hosting the first primary.
Outraged over the voting calendar change, New Hampshire officials chose to hold an unsanctioned Democratic primary on Tuesday, although the DNC has said it will not award delegates based on the results. Biden’s name did not appear on the ballot, which included 21 names in total, but the president’s allies launched a vigorous write-in campaign in support of his re-election.
Phillips and Williamson had hoped to capitalize on Biden’s absence and pull off an upset in New Hampshire. The two candidates held events across the state to make their pitch that the Democratic party needs to move in a new direction, and Phillips continued to hammer that point as he addressed supporters in Manchester on Tuesday night.
“Joe Biden is a good man. He’s a fine man,” Phillips said. “But I’ve got to tell you, everyone, he cannot win. The polls are saying he cannot win; his approval numbers are saying he can’t win.”
Despite his disappointing performance, Phillips showed no indication of dropping out of the race on Tuesday. A member of Phillips’ team told the Guardian that about 12 campaign staffers will travel on Wednesday to South Carolina, which will hold its Democratic primary on 3 February.
Biden’s approval rating has indeed been underwater since 2021, and polls show the president running neck and neck with Trump in a potential general election. However, that electability message ultimately failed to sway most New Hampshire Democrats. Given the large number of write-in votes, it was taking more time for New Hampshire officials to process Democratic ballots, but the AP was still able to declare Biden as the winner just minutes after polls closed.
Biden’s clear win in New Hampshire may help allay concerns about the possibility of decreased enthusiasm among the Democratic base heading into the general election in November.
In an indication of Biden’s potential vulnerabilities, some of the president’s prominent allies, including Congressman Ro Khanna of California, spent time campaigning on his behalf in New Hampshire. Speaking at a house party in support of the write-in campaign on Saturday, Khanna framed Biden’s performance in New Hampshire as the first step toward a strong performance in the general election.
“That’s going to propel him to have a big win in November,” Khanna said. “At the end of the day, I am a believer that Americans love this country and love our democracy.”