Minn. Rep. Dean Phillips' constituents have mixed feelings about his presidential campaign

Ryan Faircloth, Star Tribune on

Published in Political News

Karl Bunday did everything he could to help Dean Phillips get elected to Congress in 2018, marching in parades, writing postcards in support of the Minnesota Democrat and even donating money.

Now, Bunday said he can hardly recognize the Phillips who's challenging President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination and he regrets his previous work for him.

"The tone is different. The tone is much more negative — it's not an 'everyone's invited,' it's 'you can't trust the system, the system's out to get us,'" said Bunday, 65, who lives in Minnetonka. "It sounds very Trump-y."

Susie Lewis, a Phillips supporter from Hopkins, sees it differently. In running for president, she said, Phillips is doing what he's always done: taking a principled stand for something he believes in.

"I understand that a lot of my friends — I'm a very active Democrat — are on the other side of this and angry (with Phillips)," said Lewis, 81, a longtime family friend of the congressman. "We all have a mutual purpose. … We just want to keep Trump out of the White House. And we have different ways of going about it."

Phillips' quixotic campaign for president has been met with a mix of anger and encouragement back home in his west-suburban congressional district. Some constituents support Phillips and share his concern that Biden is too old and politically unpopular to defeat former President Donald Trump a second time. Others are frustrated that the third-term congressman has missed House votes while campaigning and question why he's still running after resounding losses to Biden in New Hampshire and South Carolina.


"For him to think that he has the political capital, that he has even the support in his own district, that he's the right candidate to run, is delusional," said John Albers, a 64-year-old architect from Minnetonka who spent many hours volunteering for Phillips in 2018.

When Phillips won election to Congress that year, he became the first Democrat in six decades to represent Minnesota's Third District. The district has remained solidly blue since.

Phillips' support among Democrats has eroded since he decided to challenge an incumbent president from his own party. Besides some of his constituents, a number of Minnesota elected officials have criticized and mocked him as his presidential campaign has struggled to gain traction.

"Poor Dean," Democratic U.S. Sen. Tina Smith said in a video roasting Phillips before he finished a distant third in South Carolina's primary on Feb. 3. "He took a real beating in New Hampshire, but he's staying on the ballot for South Carolina because you can't spell Phillips with only one L."


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