Why Joe Biden isn’t on the 2024 New Hampshire primary ballot — and what it means for the election

The last time Joe Biden ran in the New Hampshire primary he didn’t stick around to see the results. 

For the state’s 2024 primary, his name isn’t even on the ballot.

Back in 2020 he was a supposed frontrunner struggling to look like one, fresh off a sluggish performance in the 2020 Iowa caucuses. He asked New Hampshire voters to help him flip the narrative and deliver him a comeback. He snarked back at critics, belittled a younger challenger and called one woman “a lying, dog-faced pony soldier” at a campaign event. 

Then he skipped his own campaign party, headed to South Carolina, and finished a distant fifth in New Hampshire’s primary, faring worse than the former mayor of a midsized Midwestern city. 

Why isn’t Biden on the 2024 New Hampshire primary ballot?

Almost four years later, Mr. Biden and national Democrats have helped create a situation where the president’s name won’t even appear on New Hampshire 2024 primary ballot. He is instead limited to only being a write-in option while a younger congressman from his own party tries to replace him as the presumptive Democratic nominee, citing fears the incumbent could lose to the likely Republican nominee, former President Donald Trump, in the general election.

Mr. Biden’s move to ignore New Hampshire’s primary — making him the first incumbent president in more than a half century to not file in the state’s early voting contest — is far from an ideal situation for a candidate facing questions about his age and political standing. 

“It just sets up an incumbent president for a potential embarrassment,” said Steve Duprey, a former Republican National Committeeman from New Hampshire who supported Mr. Biden in the 2020 general election but is backing former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in this year’s GOP primary. 

Who is on the ballot for the 2024 New Hampshire primary?

Determined New England Democrats are leading a write-in campaign to help Mr. Biden in Tuesday’s primary against Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson, the two leading candidates whose names are actually on the New Hampshire Democratic primary ballot.  

Although longstanding New Hampshire law means the state has to hold the first presidential primary, Mr. Biden and the Democratic National Committee tried to change that after he became president. 

Their plans called for the first primary to be held in South Carolina, the more diverse southern state that gave Mr. Biden his first 2020 primary win and revived his White House run. Iowa was jettisoned from the first caucus slot, and New Hampshire was told it could remain an early voting state but would be moved down to sharing its primary day with Nevada.  

“It is really hard for us to continue to tell Black and Brown people that you are the core of our base, but the first two states are two of the whitest states in America,” said Michael Blake, a former DNC vice chair and Obama White House aide. 

New Hampshire refused to budge and defied the DNC, costing them national clout and leading Mr. Biden’s campaign to swear off the state’s primary. 

Mr. Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign did not comment when asked about the New Hampshire primary. That silence has meant the president’s New Hampshire allies have had to fill the void and call attention to Mr. Biden’s record on infrastructure, gun safety and the environment. Some well-known out-of-state Democrats have helped with the cause, even though DNC officials wrote in a recent letter that the party primary New Hampshire is holding “is meaningless.”  

“The one thing I have heard from Democrats all over the state is, if there has ever been an election when we need to be united, it is this election coming up in November,” said Jim Demers, a leader of the write-in campaign. “Division is Donald Trump’s best friend.”

What does Biden’s absence on the ballot mean for the primary election?

The contest in New Hampshire is already presenting a storm of contradictions and confusion over what it could signify and how much it matters. The Biden campaign’s silence, and the DNC’s dismissiveness, reflects the sense that the contest doesn’t mean much to them. 

But for Mr. Biden’s allies who know the state well and are hoping to try and keep the state’s primary at the front of the line four years from now, supporting the president by writing him in is framed as being critical. 

A day before the primary, New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan told reporters that “the DNC made a terrible decision not to have New Hampshire go first.” 

“We care about our country in New Hampshire,” said Hassan, who is supporting Mr. Biden. “We care about democracy in New Hampshire. And we know what the stakes are here. We know Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee. And we know the threat that that poses to our democracy.” 

When Mr. Biden ran for president during the 1988 campaign cycle, he dropped out after only a few months. In 2008, he quit after a lackluster finish in Iowa but went on to be picked as Barack Obama’s vice president. 

Following the two failed presidential runs, Mr. Biden entered the 2020 race as the frontrunner. 

But New Hampshire never treated him like one. 

His campaign events ranged from relatively well attended to troublingly small at times. He wandered during his speeches, sometimes keeping things so short that it was almost as if there hadn’t been any event at all — or went long and rambled on. 

Surrogates made stronger pitches for Mr. Biden than the man himself did. He worked the rope line like a professional however, talking to voters in a way that resonated far better than when he tried to win over a whole room.

Despite his early struggles, Mr. Biden went on to become his party’s standard bearer in the 2020 general election. And on the same day New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu was re-elected by more than 30 points, Mr. Biden won the state by around seven points.  

New Hampshire isn’t thought of as an important swing state, but it remains one in essence. Sununu has served as the state’s Republican governor for seven years and its state House and Senate are both controlled by the GOP. Al Gore lost the state in the 2000 election, but had he won New Hampshire, he would have become president instead of George W. Bush. And in 2016, Trump lost New Hampshire to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by less than 1 point. 

Mr. Biden’s absence from the New Hampshire primary does not impact his ability to be the Democrat’s presidential nominee in this fall’s general election, yet the risk that he  could lose the White House for Democrats haunts his 2024 run. 

He has beaten Trump before. But the prospect of the former president returning to power after he attempted to overturn the 2020 election is a dynamic that can both swell support for Mr. Biden or trouble his detractors. 

“Joe Biden, who I supported last time, in my view, is going to deliver us to Trump the sequel,” Andrew Yang, who ran as a Democrat in New Hampshire’s 2020 presidential primary, said while campaigning for Phillips. 

The president also hasn’t made himself a vocal presence in New Hampshire lately. He’s only appeared in the state a few times since becoming president, though cabinet officials have traveled to New Hampshire over the last year. And at 81, he’s already the oldest ever sitting president. 

Mr. Biden’s rejection of the New Hampshire primary isn’t sitting well with some Democrats in the state.  Mackenzie Murphy, who was the New Hampshire state director for California Rep. Eric Swalwell’s presidential campaign in 2019, expressed mixed feelings ahead of writing Mr. Biden’s name on her ballot but acknowledged that she feels he has done great work as president. 

“It speaks to the people of New Hampshire when Mr. Biden did not make an effort to come here to actually put his name on the ballot,” Murphy said. 

New Hampshire has a tendency to humble candidates. And while the past isn’t always prologue, history has set a benchmark.

In the 1968 New Hampshire primary, sitting president Lyndon Johnson was put forward only as a write-in option as he faced opposition to the Vietnam War fury within his own party. 

Johnson narrowly overcame a challenge from Minnesota Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy in the kind of performance that was a win on paper but a loss by any political standard.

Over half a century later, the incumbent president, struggling in the polls, has limited himself to only being a write-in option in the New Hampshire primary. His most vocal challenger is a Midwestern congressman urging generational change, eager to call to mind what happened the last time a Minnesotan took a stand against a sitting president from his own party. 

“Democrats have a chance this time to wake up from this nightmare before it’s too late,” said Phillips, who has stressed a determination to keep Democrats from the upset loss they suffered to Trump in 2016. 

Despite the heavy investments Phillips has put into his New Hampshire run, a strong showing against Mr. Biden appears to be a longshot. And even if Phillips manages to surprise in the state, the rest of the primary calendar is geared towards giving the president an easy path to the Democratic nomination. 

Large-scale write-in-campaigns are a notoriously difficult political endeavor, however. And the reality is for Mr. Biden to win in New Hampshire on Tuesday, he will likely have to rely on some of the same voters who sided against him during the 2020 primary four years ago to write in his name this time. 

“He’s done a lot for this state, and I think he was hurt,” Bill Shaheen, a Democratic National Committeeman in New Hampshire who supports the president, said about Mr. Biden’s last primary finish in the state. 

It was a hard loss. Mr. Biden is human like the rest of us  and no one is Superman, Shaheen said, predicting a better outcome for the president this time around. 

“We don’t hold grudges by the way,” said Shaheen, who is married to the state’s senior U.S. senator. “Like Hillary Clinton, you can win one time and then lose to Bernie Sanders the next. There’s no free passes in New Hampshire.” 

Jacob Rosen and Allison Novelo contributed to this report.

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