Advertisement

Biden's not on the ballot in New Hampshire's primary, but Dems still want him to win. Here's how.

When New Hampshire Democrats head to the polls on Tuesday, President Joe Biden's name won't be listed on their ballots.

That's the biggest indication of how little the primary, technically, will matter to the Democrats' nominating process.

Instead, a highly unusual competition is playing out in the state where Democrats either hope to show up for Biden via a write-in campaign, back one of his two long shot challengers or show that he was wrong to spurn the small Northeastern state that has gone first on the calendar for decades.

The conflict -- and, to some, confusion -- began when the Democratic National Committee shook up its 2024 presidential nominating calendar, selecting South Carolina as the first-in-the-nation primary, a move backed by Biden but contrary to state law, which New Hampshire officials, led by Republicans, declined to change.

This rendered Tuesday's contest non-compliant with the national party's rules and led the DNC to call the primary "meaningless."

Biden declined to put his name on the ballot and no delegates to earn the Democratic nomination, which are usually won based on voters' preferences in each primary or caucus, will be awarded based on Tuesday's results.

Delegates aside, Biden's performance on Tuesday is nonetheless seen by some Democrats as influential in showing that he is a popular competitor in a state that's historically swung between both parties, said Gates MacPherson, a former political strategist with ties to New Hampshire.

"It will set a tone for the rest of the cycle," MacPherson told ABC News. "It's really, really important that President Biden can show support and momentum in a state like New Hampshire."

Biden's challengers in the primary, Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and author Marianne Williamson, have poured significant resources into campaigning and blasted Biden for not doing the same. Biden's allies, meanwhile, have rallied around a rare push to see him succeed despite not being an official candidate -- via write-in.

MORE: Haley goes head-to-head with Trump in New Hampshire. Some experts say it won't help.

PHOTO: Campaign signs during a Write-In Joe Biden campaign 'Get Out The Vote' event in Dover, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2024.  (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Campaign signs during a Write-In Joe Biden campaign 'Get Out The Vote' event in Dover, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2024. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

What is 'write in Biden'?

A passionate grassroots group of Democrats who say they are wholly unaffiliated from the official reelection campaign, aptly called "write in Biden," are encouraging voters to pen the president's name on Tuesday's ballot, hoping to deliver the incumbent a win despite the beaurucratic sparring between the local and national party.

These efforts first began in October and amassed more than 1,000 volunteers within seven days of launching. The write-in group is aiming to send volunteers to every polling place come Tuesday, prioritizing the sites with the highest population densities as part of a push to educate voters on how to still pick Biden.

Jim Demers, one of the lead organizers, said this weekend at a get-out-the-vote event that the efforts have "continued morphing every single week" and that the group had achieved its budget goals.

New Hampshire's swingy voter history also ups the ante. Hillary Clinton eked out a squeaker victory in the 2016 presidential race, besting Donald Trump by less than 1 point. Biden widened that margin in 2020, yet still only won by single digits.

Tuesday's results will be especially important for what it says about the state's independent (or "undeclared") voters, who outnumber registered Republicans or Democrats and who are allowed to also cast ballots in the primary.

"If President Biden comes out on Tuesday and wins, that's a huge accomplishment for the campaign and a really good sign for what's to come," said MacPherson, the strategist.

MORE: Biden campaign dismisses 3rd-party and No Labels threat in 2024: Voters won't be 'fooled'

Terie Norelli, another organizer for the write-in campaign, said that their efforts were meant to depict as much -- that a strong showing from Biden on Tuesday could prove he is in a good position in the battleground state, despite his primary rivals and despite his poor or mediocre polling.

"President Biden's name will not be on the ballot, but we do know what is on the ballot. We know that democracy is on the ballot on Tuesday and in November. ... And this is clearly too critical an election to sit on the sidelines," Norelli said at a gathering of write-in Biden supporters on Saturday in Portsmouth.

Write-in ballots are qualified based on the voter's intent rather than pure accuracy, according to Secretary of State David Scanlan. Potential variations such as Biden, J. Biden, Joseph Biden and POTUS would all be classified as a vote for Biden because the voter's intention would be to nominate him.

Votes for "cease-fire" -- as urged by a smaller grassroots movement pushing Democrats to pencil that in to protest the White House's position on the Israel-Hamas war -- will be counted and reported in their own category, officials said.

The secretary of state's office had previously said "cease-fire" votes would be counted among the broader "scatter" votes.

PHOTO: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu joins supporters demonstrating at a Joe Biden Write-In Rally in Manchester, N.H., on Jan. 20, 2024. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu joins supporters demonstrating at a Joe Biden Write-In Rally in Manchester, N.H., on Jan. 20, 2024. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)

Write-in campaign draws Biden surrogates but not Biden

Although the Biden campaign is not officially affiliated with the write-in efforts, several prominent Democratic mayors and congressmen have traveled to New Hampshire on the president's behalf.

And big-name surrogates for Biden such as Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker virtually joined press conferences mobilizing voters.

Others including New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hasson and Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey have joined the effort on the ground in its final weeks, illustrating the fact that, although the results may not matter in terms of the delegates who select the nominee, Biden's performance matters to Democrats.

Those who are quasi-stumping for the president have set murky expectations, repeating that Biden must win while emphasizing the challenges of a write-in campaign.

"A win is a win, it means getting the most votes," California Rep. Ro Khanna said on Saturday at another write-in event, in Portsmouth. He avoided setting any numerical benchmark for Tuesday.

Phillips, for his part, said this week that getting a vote share "somewhere in the 20s would be pretty awesome."

The congressman, a former member of Democratic leadership in the House, has not yet gained much traction in polling tracked by 538. He has indicated he wants to show Biden is a weak candidate to run against Trump and force him from the race -- a possibility dismissed by Biden allies.

Williamson, for her part, has defended New Hampshire's role in the primary, saying, "You don't protect democracy by suppressing democracy." She told ABC News' Jonathan Karl last year that "I don't see myself as running against Joe Biden. I see this campaign as challenging a system."

One Democratic veteran of numerous New Hampshire primaries, who was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the state of the race, calculated what could be a potential outcome for party results based on historical results.

The bar for Democratic incumbent success in New Hampshire is then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, who won the primary with 84%. The last candidate to win a write-in campaign in New Hampshire was President Lyndon B. Johnson, who got 48% and defeated Eugene McCarthy in 1968's Democratic primary -- but, as Phillips has noted, ultimately dropped out of the Democratic race just weeks later.

"Given the difficulty and mechanics of a write-in, if he gets over 65[%], that's a resounding victory to me," the Democratic source said of Biden. "And if he falls below 50, then I think he's in Lyndon Johnson territory, and it's a problem."

More recent (if inexact) precedent for a successful write-in campaign is in 2010's senate race in Alaska, when Lisa Murkowski won out after she lost her Republican primary to tea party candidate Joe Miller. Murkowski received just shy of 40% of the vote after an active campaign. However, she was also facing two other prominent candidates.

Biden has done the opposite, remaining fervently out of New Hampshire so far this cycle, in deferrence to the national party's position on the calendar.

"It's a hard thing to do in a write-in campaign. It's not easy. There are a lot of ways to be disqualified, so what I would say doing well is to win -- and in a state that you haven't campaigned in, in a state where you're not on the ballot," Khanna said this weekend.

Khanna struck a delicate tone, speaking in a room full of state residents, about the president's reasoning for elevating South Carolina instead, which many locals consider an insult to their cherished -- if sometimes controversial -- position at the front of the line.

The state, as some other Democrats will note, is not demographically representative of the country and has a relatively poor track record of predicting the president.

"The president's motives of wanting to elevate the voices of Black and brown communities was correct," Khanna told reporters. "But it has to be done also with recognizing that history and tradition of New Hampshire so that no one's delegates get disqualified, and I think that we will work towards that outcome."

But Biden's challengers aren't buying it.

"If he wrote you off, why would you write him in?" Phillips asked at an event in Nashua on Saturday. "Seems like the president is taking the Granite State for granted."

PHOTO: Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips speaks to supporters during a campaign rally on Jan. 20, 2024 in Nashua, N.H.  (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips speaks to supporters during a campaign rally on Jan. 20, 2024 in Nashua, N.H. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

What New Hampshire voters are saying

Almost a dozen New Hampshire Democrats or undeclared voters expressed disappointment to ABC News about both the DNC stripping its contest of delegates and the Biden campaign for not choosing to participate in the primary.

Marie Mulroy of Manchester, an undeclared voter, said she voted for Biden in the last two presidential elections but plans to vote for Nikki Haley in the Republican primary come Tuesday, scoffing when asked about the write-in effort for the president.

"I find that it's very disrespectful to our state," Mulroy said last week at Maryann's Diner in Derry. "Not only does he write it in, it's going to hold up the election because they have to hire people to hand count them, so it really is disrespectful."

Scanlan, the secretary of state, has said he's not concerned with the write-in effort holding up results and that the state has a process in place.

"I respect Biden, but he said he didn't want to be here. He shouldn't be here," Mulroy added. "I think he would do better not being on the ballot at all. I think I would have more respect for him if he wasn't," she said.

Gayle Taylor of Concord, also undeclared, said she plans to write-in Biden but is disappointed that she won't see his name.

"There's a lot of blame going around. Did Joe Biden direct the DNC to do this? Did the DNC do it on their own? And then that letter saying that our votes would essentially be wasteful, that really hurt," she told ABC News at a write-in Biden event in Concord.

"That was not a good thing for the Democrats," Taylor said, "but I think we're getting beyond it, trying to figure out the right thing to do. Really, it's not about that. It's about making sure we elect the right president."

Biden's not on the ballot in New Hampshire's primary, but Dems still want him to win. Here's how. originally appeared on abcnews.go.com