About 100 feet of sawdust barriers lined the entrance to Hillside High School here in Manchester, NH, inadvertently pointing to the divide in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary.
At one end, closest to the parking lot, stood Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota, the lone Democratic candidate challenging President Biden. He was surrounded by about half a dozen staff members and volunteers energetically waving signs.
At the other end were two members of the local Manchester Democrats, proudly holding signs encouraging voters to write in Joe Biden, who is not on the ballot after controversy over his effort to strip New Hampshire of its first-in-the-state primary status.
Julie Swant, 84, balancing a “Write in Biden” sign on the back of a fence, changed her sunny disposition as she greeted voters and glared at the mere mention of Mr. Phillips’ name.
“We love Joe Biden. We were just chatting about how much he’s done, which is so much,” she said. Her colleague, “Write-In Biden” sign holder and neighbor, Jim Webber, 68, nodded in agreement.
At the other end of the fence, Mr. Phillips continued to greet voters for about an hour, arriving right as the polls opened at 7 a.m. ET, taking only a brief break for a radio interview from the quiet (and warmth) of his SUV. He approached voters as if he were a stranger, even and when he was surrounded by multiple inscriptions bearing his name.
“Good morning!” Mr. Phillips shouted to voters as they entered the polls around 7:30 a.m., hands extended for a handshake. “Do you know who I am?”
The supporters, however, were brought to a prolonged handshake, and Mr. Phillips held them for 15 seconds or longer. Poll workers briefly stepped outside eager to have their picture taken with the candidate, bringing their own disposable camera to take photos.
Some voters, like Richard Valley, 53, who works in retail and lives in Manchester, deserved a hug.
“Joe Biden just needs to go. It’s time to retire,” Mr. Valley said (although he added that he would vote for Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump).
In an interview, Mr. Phillips called the day “the most joyous, wonderful day that I think I’ve been a part of in my life.”
He dismissed any concern that his presence in the race and his criticism of Mr. Biden’s years were splitting the Democratic Party ahead of a critical election. “What concerns me is the fact that we are crowning a candidate who simply cannot win.”
And he tried to clarify his flirtation by running No Labels. “I made it really clear: I’m a Democrat. I am a lifelong Democrat who flipped a Republican seat that was red for 60 years.”
But, he added, “if it’s Biden vs. Trump, we need some alternative way to get votes away from Trump and win this election.”
“I’m trying to keep people’s minds open to a no-label candidate who would draw votes away from Trump. That wouldn’t be me. That’s the whole point,” Mr. Phillips said.