NASHUA, N.H. — Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., running a long-shot primary challenge to President Joe Biden, said Saturday that he would consider running on the ticket of No Labels, a centrist group exploring an independent bid, if it appeared that the general election would be a rematch between Biden and former President Donald Trump.
In an interview, Phillips publicly articulated for the first time the circumstances in which he would accept the No Labels presidential nomination, and said he was in regular communication with Nancy Jacobson, the group’s CEO. Democratic allies of Biden’s have been alarmed by No Labels, worrying that any candidate it runs could siphon votes from him.
“People are criticizing them because they believe whomever they offer on their ticket will hurt Joe Biden,” Phillips said after a town hall event at a senior center in Nashua. “That’s false. If they put someone at the top of the ticket who could actually drive votes from Donald Trump, every Democrat in the United States of America should be celebrating it. They haven’t made that determination.”
Phillips has a long relationship with Jacobson and No Labels from his tenure in the group’s congressional Problem Solvers Caucus, an organization that promotes policies with bipartisan support. He said he had told Jacobson he would not discuss running as the No Labels candidate “at this time.”
But Phillips did say he would consider running as the No Labels candidate if polling suggested that Biden would lose in November to Trump.
“It would have to be a Joe Biden-Donald Trump rematch that shows Joe Biden is almost certain to lose,” Phillips said. “That is the only condition in which I would even entertain a conversation with any alternative.”
He added: “Everybody should keep their head and heart and mind open, because why would we shut off possibilities to defeat this horrific danger to democracy?”
Three months after beginning his presidential campaign, Phillips remains a little-known curiosity in the New Hampshire primary race. A poll released Jan. 9 by the University of New Hampshire showed him with 7% support in the Democratic primary. He told reporters Saturday he would be happy with “mid-20s” support in the election Tuesday.
Phillips has spent millions of dollars of his own money on his bid, and his TV ads are ubiquitous on New Hampshire television, but it’s not clear how much support he has.
New Hampshire voters at his Saturday event in Nashua were vastly outnumbered by out-of-state college students, political tourists and journalists. It is also atypical for presidential candidates to publicly float running as a third-party or independent candidate while still competing in a major party’s primary race.
Trump, at his own rally Saturday night in Manchester, New Hampshire, offered a mocking endorsement of Phillips. “Democrats should vote for the congressman,” he said.
Biden’s name will not be on the primary ballot in New Hampshire. His campaign declined to participate after the state refused to cooperate with his shake-up of the Democratic presidential nominating calendar, which moved South Carolina to the first spot.
A well-funded group of Biden loyalists has mounted its own campaign in New Hampshire, encouraging Democrats to write in Biden’s name on the ballot Tuesday.
Groups of Democrats allied with the Biden campaign have been working in concert for months to scuttle Jacobson’s aspirations to offer an alternative presidential candidate in November. They fear that any vote for a third-party or independent presidential candidate will take votes away from Biden, given his campaign’s focus on making the 2024 election a referendum on Trump’s fitness for office.
Jacobson has tried to recruit Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, among others, in an attempt to find a high-profile figure to lead the No Labels presidential ticket. Jacobson has told donors privately that the group plans to choose a Republican as its presidential nominee. Hogan, who until recently was a member of the No Labels board, has said so publicly.
A spokesperson for the Biden campaign declined to discuss Phillips.
Jacobson said Saturday that it was “too early to speculate” on whom No Labels might select as its standard-bearer or if the group would follow through on its plans to run a presidential candidate.
“Dean Phillips is a terrific member of the Problem Solvers Caucus,” she said. “He embodies the ethos of the No Labels movement.”
In the interview, Phillips said repeatedly that he was “not ruling anything out” and denounced absolutist language from other politicians.
“No Labels can either be the goat or the hero,” he said. “I will also do what I can to ensure that they’re the latter.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.