Dean Phillips Running for President?
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) has been in Congress since 2019. Photograph by Jake Armour

Dean Phillips Running for President?

To many Democrats it’s an unwelcome “distraction.”

WASHINGTON — Rep. Dean Phillips’ consideration of a White House run has fallen with a thud among Minnesota’s DFLers and other Democrats, some of whom have reacted by reaffirming their strong loyalty to President Joe Biden.

“It’s a distraction and it gives Republicans ammunition,” said Rich Ginsburg, a lobbyist and supporter of DFL candidates, in reference to Phillips’ political ambitions. “Dean is going to have to explain himself.”

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bernie Burnham reacted with just one word – “Ugh” – to a Facebook post about Phillips’ ambitions.

“We are 100% for President Biden,” said Minnesota AFL-CIO communications director Chris Shields.

A 54-year-old Democrat who represents the suburbs west of Minneapolis, Phillips has confirmed reports that he is meeting with Democratic donors in New York City this week to explore a run for the White House.

That has perplexed both officials in his party and political analysts who say he would never defeat Biden in next year’s Democratic primaries. And if for any reason Biden doesn’t run for re-election some reason, Phillips would still be considered a long shot.

“Dean Phillips doesn’t have the kind of draw he thinks he has,” Ginsburg said.

Nevertheless, the son of the heir to the Phillips Distilling Company who became a successful businessman in his own right, says he’s an eternal optimist. His Instagram motto is “Optimism is infinitely stronger than fear.”

In his third term in Congress, Phillips is an active member of the bipartisan Problem Solvers caucus and prides himself as a dealmaker.

That moderate stance would not help Phillips in the Democratic presidential primaries, said University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs, who is the director of the school’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

“The primary voter is not a moderate who supports deal making, the primary voter is an activist who tends to be ideologically motivated,” Jacobs said.

Meanwhile, Ginsburg said the nation is too polarized for a centrist to make much headway in national politics.

“The battle lines are drawn, there is no middle,” he said.

Phillips declined to be interviewed for this story and has also turned down other media requests. But he texted the New York Times that he had “been overwhelmed with outreach and encouragement” to run for the White House and needed to assess his next steps.

A year ago Phillips was the first Democrat to publicly say Biden should not run and allow younger, more “dynamic” Democrats compete to be the party’s frontrunner. Democrats came to the support of Biden then, and after reports last week that Phillips might run for president, those Democrats rallied around the 80-year-old president again.

“With the threat of a second Trump presidency or a (Gov. Ron) DeSantis presidency, we need to be celebrating the accomplishments of Democrats and President Biden, not tearing it down,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-5th District, in a tweet.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison tweeted that Biden has “delivered one of the largest economic recoveries in history, invested huge in infrastructure and is fighting for working people every day.”

“I’m 100% committed to helping re-elect him so we can continue building the economy from the bottom up and the middle out,” Ellison said.

Biden has already attracted two marginal Democratic primary challengers, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a member of a Democratic political dynasty, and author Marianne Williamson.

Those candidates have not caused the president’s re-election team much worry.

And Biden campaign co-chair Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., told NBCs “Meet the Press” on Sunday that a possible Phillips candidacy “doesn’t make me nervous.”

Like Ellison, Coons credited Biden for the nation’s economic growth.

“Dean Phillips can’t cite anything like that,” he said.

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Columbia University political science professor Robert Erikson thinks it’s important to know the identities of the Democratic donors meeting with Phillips this week to help him decide his political future. The congressman has not said who he is meeting with.

Erikson said Phillips could be a threat to Biden if he runs as a third-party candidate, syphoning off Democratic and independent votes from the president. He said Phillips would be a much more serious candidate than Kennedy or Williamson. But Erikson agreed with others who said the odds are long that Phillips would win the 2024 presidential election. Like others, Erikson said Phillips’ presidential ambitions are an enigma.

“The question is does he want to run for president or does he want publicity?” asked Erikson.