Biden’s write-in victory in New Hampshire signals grassroots strength ahead of general election

The Write-In Campaign for Joe Biden, a grassroots effort by a small group of activists, had a historic impact on one of the most important elections in the history of the Granite State.

By Armita Mirkarimi

March 13, 2024

On Jan. 23, President Joe Biden won the Democratic Primary in New Hampshire with nearly 70% of the vote, largely as a result of write-in Biden campaign efforts. Campaign organizers now hope to show the Democratic National Committee (DNC) the seriousness of New Hampshire voters in hopes of persuading the DNC to reconsider the Granite State’s place on the party’s nominating calendar. 

Grassroots efforts almost entirely supported the write-in campaign. James Demers and Colin Van Ostern, veteran grassroots activists and political leaders in the state, led the write-in effort with Kathy Sullivan, former chair of the New Hampshire Democratic party. Demers and Van Ostern said that the three independently thought about leading a charge to write in President Biden’s name before organizing together. 

“We really started to come together after the DNC’s final decision on the calendar,” Demers said. 

“We were going to be out of sync with what the DNC had decided but also knew that there was going to be a primary. It really made sense to make sure that the president’s name would be out there,” Van Ostern added.

On Feb. 4, 2024, the DNC rules and bylaws committee approved a proposal that replaced New Hampshire with South Carolina as the first state on the presidential nominating calendar. However, in Nov. 2023, Secretary of State Dave Scanlan set Jan. 23, 2024 as the primary date,  following a 1975 law requiring the Secretary of State to schedule the primary date before that of any other state.

Van Ostern said he grew interested in leading a write-in effort because he considers Biden as the only anti-Trump candidate and was determined to “save” the 2024 primary in New Hampshire. 

“Granite Staters take the primary seriously,” Van Ostern said. “We were not about to sit by and not vote, no matter how unusual the circumstances.” 

Biden’s win through the write-in campaign is “historic,” Demers mentioned. The last time a write-in Candidate won the Democratic Primary in New Hampshire was in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson received over 50% of the vote. 

“In the 2024 Primary, turnout was way above what people thought, considering that the president’s name wasn’t on the ballot,” Demers said. “New Hampshirites demonstrated that they take their primary very seriously and they were going to send a message. The outcome was so strong that it puts us in a whole different position when the DNC makes its decision for the calendar in 2028.” 

Sullivan, Demers, and Van Ostern led much of the effort to secure funding for mailers, advertisements, and compensation for the write-in effort’s Communications and Grassroots Directors. Campaign volunteers held weekly Zoom meetings with the goals of preventing voter confusion and giving New Hampshire citizens voter information. 

“A lot of the ideas came from individual parts of the state. Stephanie and George in Claremont designed palm cards that had a sample ballot on them. We decided to make a thousand of them because it was a good way to get the word out,” Van Ostern said. 

Big names in the Democratic party also took notice of the write-in campaign’s grassroots efforts. Demers, chairman of the campaign’s financing club, reached out to elected officials like Senator Cory Booker, Congressman Ro Khanna, Governor J.B. Pritzker, and Governor Phil Murphy. 

“It was cool to have them come on and give everyone a pep talk,” Demers said. “They talked about how critical this was to be organized and be united for the president.” 

Demers and Van Ostern also said that student support of the write-in campaign was “invaluable.” Dartmouth College Democrats JJ Dega and Nicolas Macri helped lead the write-in effort in Hanover. A coalition of Dartmouth students held write-in Biden signs outside of the polls leading up to and on primary day. 

Dega, who was elected to be a potential delegate for Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention in August, joined the write-in campaign because he believes democracy was on the ballot.  

“The write-in campaign dispelled the narrative that young people are not excited about Joe Biden as President,” Dega said. “The narrative of Joe Biden being old or not exciting to young people is false. And the primary showed the Biden campaign and the rest of the country that. Young people will always show up for democracy.” 

Dega cited the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, Chips and Science Act, and “creation of infrastructure jobs in New Hampshire ” as successes under the Biden Administration. Still, many Granite Staters, particularly independents, decided to vote for Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary in hopes of preventing Trump from winning the Republican Party’s nomination. 

“I like to vote for people who I actually want to win,” Marci, a volunteer with Dega, said. “The people who voted for Haley, especially in Hanover, I don’t think aligned with her politics. She’s supportive of a federal abortion ban and couldn’t even admit that the civil war was caused by slavery.” 

Dega and Marci said they hope the Biden Campaign sees his victory in New Hampshire as an indication that local organizing will reelect the President.

“It’s only when we talked directly to voters that Biden’s accomplishments resonated,” Dega said. “If you look at the election results, more people voted for Biden than say the younger Dean Phillips. We broke that narrative and showed that Joe Biden is the candidate that Gen Z wants.” 

After the primary, the Biden Campaign hired Aaron Jacobs, an active member of the write-in effort, as the campaign’s State Director, Van Ostern noted. 

“I think that’s a good sign that they’re taking the effort here of citizens seriously,” Van Ostern said. 

Demers emphasized New Hampshire’s position as a battleground state. The four electoral votes that will be essential in the general election can “really make or break Biden’s bid.” 

“New Hampshire really came together and pulled through for President Biden with the write-in campaign,” Demers said. “I hope the entire Democratic Party sees this work and invests in it. They need local grassroots efforts in New Hampshire to win in November.”

Author

  • Armita Mirkarimi

    Armita Mirkarimi is interested in finding political nuance through human stories. A current student at Dartmouth College, Armita studies Government, English, and now calls the Granite State her home. She has previous experience in humanitarian policy at Save the Children US and as a Press Intern on Capitol Hill.

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