Politics / January 24, 2024

Biden Might Have Had the Best Night of All in New Hampshire

The state Biden pushed out of the primary calendar gave the write-in candidate a landslide win, and signs of a path to victory in November.

John Nichols
Joe Biden at a reproductive freedom campaign rally at George Mason University in Manassas, Virginia, US, on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024.

Joe Biden at a reproductive freedom campaign rally at George Mason University in Manassas, Va.,on Tuesday, January 23, 2024.

(Julia Nikhinson / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Joe Biden gave New Hampshire almost no respect. After finishing fifth in the Granite State’s 2020 Democratic presidential primary, the president worked with the Democratic National Committee to knock “the first-primary state” out of its opening slot on the 2024 primary calendar. Then, when New Hampshire officials decided to go ahead with an unsanctioned Democratic primary, Biden refused to file the paperwork to put his name on the ballot.

Yet New Hampshire primary voters appeared to be in a forgiving mood on Tuesday night, as they gave the president everything he needed, and a little bit more.

With only scattered results from a handful of New Hampshire cities and towns where polls closed early, Cook Political Report election analyst David Wasserman weighed in before 8 pm with his trademark “I’ve seen enough…” election night call and tweeted, “I’ve seen enough: Pres. Joe Biden (D) wins the New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary.” Less than an hour later, as soon as all the polls were closed, the television networks chimed in to call the primary for Biden—based on exit polls and actual results that showed the write-in campaign for the president winning at least two-thirds of the statewide vote.

When all was said and done, in a state where he stubbornly avoided campaigning, the president had a very good night.

How good? Compare the results from the Republican and Democratic primaries.

In the Republican race, former president Donald Trump campaigned hard against his only remaining prominent challenger: former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley. Trump spent lots of money, appeared at rallies around the state and actually mounted a far more serious campaign than he did in 2016 or 2020. The result: He won big, securing an impressive 55 percent of the vote to 43 percent for Haley in a high-turnout primary that saw substantial participation by independent swing voters. Unfortunately for Trump, however, one driver of the high turnout on the GOP side was a desire to upend his candidacy on the part of a significant portion of Haley voters who’ll likely back Biden in November.

By contrast, Biden never showed up to campaign against his most prominent challengers, US Representative Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), a millionaire who spent freely on television advertising and voter mobilization efforts, and author and 2020 Democratic presidential contender Marianne Williamson, who campaigned across the state on a progressive platform. He also faced a concerted effort by critics of his support for Israel’s assault on Gaza to get voters to write in the word “Cease-fire.” Yet, Biden was winning over two-thirds of the vote in NBC’s count, to 19 percent for Phillips and around 4 percent for Williamson. Though it was difficult on election night to get a clear read on the “Cease-fire” write-in vote, it looked to be somewhere in the range of 5 percent.

Much of the credit for Biden’s win goes to the New Hampshire Democrats who organized the write-in campaign. They were determined to spare him from the embarrassment of a weak finish. And they succeeded. A delighted Kathy Sullivan, the former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair who played a critical role in organizing the campaign, noted that the president appeared to be getting a bigger percentage of the vote in the Democratic primary than Trump was getting in the GOP race. Indeed, Sullivan pointed out early in the evening that Biden was on track to win more votes as a write-in candidate in 2024 than former President Barack Obama, the last Democratic president to seek reelection, got when he was on the Democratic primary ballot in 2012.

“New Hampshire Democrats made history tonight by electing Joe Biden as our nominee in 2024 through a write-in effort,” said US Representative Annie Kuster (D-N.H.). “This victory shows the power of our first-in-the-nation primary and the strength of President Biden’s support in New Hampshire and all across the country.”

US Representative Ro Khanna (D-Califo.), who visited the state several times to campaign for Biden, celebrated the Democratic primary results on Tuesday night with an observation that “Biden wasn’t on the ballot in New Hampshire, but thanks to an incredible group of volunteers running a write-in campaign, he won big. This is the energy we need to bring every day in 2024 to make sure we beat Trump in November.”

The Nation Weekly

Fridays. A weekly digest of the best of our coverage.
By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You may unsubscribe or adjust your preferences at any time. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

The results were only the first measure of the boost Biden got from New Hampshire. The president and his aides could also discern encouraging news amid the Republican primary results.

Trump won comfortably, but not comfortably enough to push Haley out of the race. That means the former governor of South Carolina will remain on the attack for now. Sure, Haley criticizes Biden, but that’s to be expected. What is far more notable is her increasingly aggressive anti-Trump rhetoric. She is now suggesting that the former president is losing it mentally. In a mocking address to her supporters on primary night, Haley said, “I’ve long called for mental competency tests for politicians over the age of 75. Trump claims he’d do better than me in one of those tests. Maybe he would, maybe he wouldn’t. But if he thinks that, then he should have no problem standing on a debate stage with me.”

Ouch.

Trump won’t debate Haley. But he will continue to take hits from her —for weeks, perhaps for months. Ultimately, Trump is all but certain to win the GOP nomination. But, if the former president’s primary night speech was any indication, he will do so as an angry and embittered nominee who will struggle to unite Republican primary voters in swing states such as New Hampshire, where 42 percent of primary voters indicated that they would see the 91-times indicted Trump as unfit to serve as president if he were convicted of a crime.

It’s certainly true that, if and when Trump is nominated, he’ll get the votes of many Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who see him as unfit but still back the candidate with an “R” after his name. With that said, however, Biden’s clearly got a chance to pick up a significant amount of November support from the 38 percent of participants in Tuesday’s New Hampshire Republican primary voters who said they would be “dissatisfied” with Trump as the GOP nominee—and from voters like them in other swing states..

That’s especially true if the president makes a big issue of his support for abortion rights in a race with Trump, who brags about packing the US Supreme Court with anti-choice justices. According to the New Hampshire exit poll, only 27 percent of Republican primary voters said they favored a federal abortion ban. Biden aides see reason for hope in those numbers, as they anticipate a November race with Trump. And they’re not alone.

“With Donald Trump, Republicans have lost almost every competitive election,” said Haley in her primary-night address. “We lost the Senate. We lost the House. We lost the White House. We lost in 2018. We lost in 2020, and we lost in 2022. The worst-kept secret in politics is how badly the Democrats want to run against Donald Trump. They know Trump is the only Republican in the country who Joe Biden can defeat.”

John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

More from The Nation

Then–US President Donald Trump holds a Bible outside of St. John's Episcopal church in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020. Trump was due to make a televised address to the nation after days of protests against police brutality.

Hit Trump on Theocracy, Not Hypocrisy Hit Trump on Theocracy, Not Hypocrisy

The former president’s alliance with religious fanatics is a far bigger problem than his lack of piety.

Jeet Heer

Joe Biden and George W. Bush await presentation of the 2018 Liberty Medal at The National Constitution Center on November 11, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Biden Is Repeating Bush’s Post-9/11 Playbook. It’s Not Working. Biden Is Repeating Bush’s Post-9/11 Playbook. It’s Not Working.

Just like his predecessor, the president is decrying anti-Arab and Muslim hatred while helping to fuel it. But people are refusing to let him get away with this hypocrisy.

Saliha Bayrak

House Oversight Committee Considers Citing Hunter Biden For Contempt Of Congress

The GOP Witness Against Hunter Biden Is Full of Baloney The GOP Witness Against Hunter Biden Is Full of Baloney

FBI informant Alexander Smirnov has been indicted for lying to federal agents—and may have ties to Russian intelligence.

Chris Lehmann

An American flag above the Washington Monument is seen split nearly in two in June 2018.

America’s Two-Party System Failure America’s Two-Party System Failure

While Republicans seek power on behalf of their disgraced former leader, Democrats have all but gone into hiding.

Chris Lehmann

Eric Hovde's Senate campaign announcement.

Mitch McConnell Wants to Hand Wisconsin’s Senate Seat to a California Banker Mitch McConnell Wants to Hand Wisconsin’s Senate Seat to a California Banker

Urged on by the Senate minority leader, Wisconsin Republicans place a losing bet on a critical Senate race.

John Nichols

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris join hands as they depart a “Reproductive Freedom Campaign Rally” at George Mason University on January 23, 2024, in Manassas, Va.

It’s Time to Get Over Biden’s Age It’s Time to Get Over Biden’s Age

The potshots at the president’s age are attacks not just on Biden but also on his vice president. Plus, have you seen the other guy?

Elie Mystal