That was the headline from Time.com’s Philip Elliot, reporting that President Joe Biden is ceding New Hampshire and her delegates for the Democratic nomination, apparently to Robert Kennedy, Jr., by not appearing on the ballot for the first in the nation primary on Jan. 23, 2024.
Biden and the Democratic Party had planned to have South Carolina go first on Feb. 3, 2024, but New Hampshire responded by moving their primary up, and now Biden is effectively boycotting the state to stick to his party’s calendar.
Biden’s plan to bypass New Hampshire is a calculated risk, but it is not without merit. Biden didn’t compete in New Hampshire in 2020 for the primary either, but owing to his performance in South Carolina that catapulted his campaign, he managed to replicate Bill Clinton’s 1992 comeback win for the Democratic nomination, who also lost Iowa and New Hampshire.
Ultimately, Biden easily won New Hampshire by 10 points, and so that’s all the proof Biden needs to justify skipping the state in 2024. All it will do is expose Biden’s weakness among certain segments of the electorate, particularly independents.
And there is certainly cause for concern.
Ironically, Biden had been leading New Hampshire on average with 70 percent to 10 percent for Kennedy and 6 percent for Marianne Williamson.
In 1952, Harry Truman actually lost the New Hampshire primary to Estes Kefauver, prompting Truman to withdraw from the race rather than be annihilated by Dwight Eisenhower.
In 1968, Lyndon Johnson similarly did not appear on the New Hampshire ballot, but a last minute bid for a write-in campaign allowed Johnson to barely prevail against Eugene McCarthy, who garnered 42 percent of the vote in the primary to Johnson’s 49 percent. Johnson’s weakness with independents ultimately prompted him to withdraw from the race.
In 1980, another Kennedy, Ted Kennedy, surprised incumbent President Jimmy Carter by running for president, and picked up nearly 38 percent of the vote in New Hampshire, signaling Carter’s weakness with swing voters that would prove fatal in a 44-state rout by Ronald Reagan.
Politics is perception, and Biden’s hope to break the New Hampshire jinx is by simply foregoing its judgment and hoping the news media ignores what could be an easy win for his opponent Robert Kennedy, Jr.
The mistake is that the calendar is irrelevant: swing voters will show up in the other states, too. The size of Biden’s victories against Robert Kennedy will matter — a lot. Carter in 1980 lost chunks of votes to Kennedy, and even as the incumbent president still easily won the primary, but the process state-by-state fostered those who ultimately became Reagan Democrats.
The latest Messenger-Harris X poll taken Sept. 29 shows Biden’s current lead on Robert Kennedy among just Democrats is 61 percent to 16 percent, which is the headline number reported. But among independents in the poll—who in states like New Hampshire and South Carolina can vote in open primaries—Biden is losing to Kennedy 28 percent to 25 percent.
Not including independents in the reported result could be setting up a false expectation for how Biden will perform in the primary, but even if Kennedy only polls 15 percent on average in every state, that would mean 15 percent of the traditional Democratic vote, which in part includes independents, is on the table in the general election, giving whoever the Republican nominee ultimately is an opportunity to persuade the general electorate that it’s time for Biden to go.
This matters because when the same people are asked in the poll who they’re voting for in November 2024, it’s former President Donald Trump with 45 percent and Biden with 42 percent. Trump unsurprisingly picks up 11 percent of Democrats compared to Biden only picking up 7 percent of Republicans, and Trump narrowly edges Biden among independents, 38 percent to 37 percent.
When given the opportunity to vote against a sitting president, whether Truman, Johnson or Carter, when enough do so on a statewide basis in primaries, it demonstrates historically a weak incumbent as anti-Biden voters in a primary are far more likely to be anti-Biden voters in the general election.
It’s a lot like ignoring the polls as a strategy. From Biden’s perspective, no matter what, 2024 is his last political stand, the moment that fate will make or break for him and the Democratic political machine that seeks to prop him up. Only time will tell.
Biden hopes to bypass this early, predictive reading of voters in New Hampshire by hiding it, but it is in vain and might only provide false comfort that swing voters are not already telling themselves that this is a reckoning and it’s time for a change, especially if Kennedy voters become anti-Biden voters.
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.