Both Joe Biden and Dean Phillips impressed South Carolina voters at the dinner

COLUMBIA, S.C. — In what was supposed to be a strictly celebratory event launching President Biden's slide to the Democratic presidential nomination, long-shot primary challenger Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) tried to impress the crowd with an ominous warning.

Speaking minutes before Biden took the stage at the first-in-the-nation dinner on Saturday, Phillips warned the assembled Democrats that Biden's low poll numbers and weak political standing threaten to allow former President Donald Trump back into the White House. .

“I'm here to tell you that the numbers don't say things are good,” Phillips said from the stage as Democratic officials panned the hall. Phillips received some light applause after his remarks, and he had to stop at one point to get the attention of those who weren't listening.

“So my call to President Biden — a man I love, a man I respect, a man who saved this country, who has done a lot of good over the last four years — is to pass the torch to President Biden. A new generation is ready to take the stage.

Outside of a few outbursts from pro-Palestinian protesters during Biden's speech, Phillips' comments were a brief departure from what was often — a show of unified support for the president in a state that helped launch him to the presidency in 2020.

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Biden was showered with praise by every other speaker at the event, including a lengthy introduction by Rep. James E. Clyburn (DS.C.), who praised his record and called him “a great president” and a “compassionate president.” .” Biden campaign officials said the president is visiting the state to demonstrate his commitment to the state's overwhelmingly Democratic black electorate.

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In his remarks, Biden touted strong economic growth under his watch, focusing particularly on the progress of black voters.

“All the progress we've made comes down to one simple proposition: Promises and promises kept,” Biden said. He repeated the phrase several times as he outlined various parts of his record, rebutting critics who question whether black Americans have been given the presidency by Biden.

He used his comments to ramp up his attacks on Trump, repeatedly calling the former president a “loser.” Biden took umbrage after he abandoned plans to visit an American cemetery in Paris in 2018 for reasons he said involved bad weather, referring to comments Trump allegedly made disparaging American troops.

Trump has denied accusations that he referred to the troops as “suckers and losers”.

“How dare he?” Biden said. “I call them patriots and heroes. The only failure I see is Donald Trump. It makes me angry.

Biden, who began his speech with a shout-out to local officials and members of Congress in attendance, did not acknowledge Phillips in his comments.

Still, Phillips' presence at the dinner — and in the Democratic primary race — highlighted the sometimes awkward dynamics of Biden's re-election bid. Polls show most Democrats say the 81-year-old president is too old to run for a second term and they want to hold to a different standard. But Phillips is the only major elected Democrat to challenge Biden, and his campaign has struggled to gain much support.

Phillips, a third-term congressman and heir to the family liquor business, acknowledged early in his remarks that he faced long odds in the state's primary scheduled for next Saturday.

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With Biden's blessing, the Democratic National Committee changed the long-standing order for the 2024 primaries and moved South Carolina's contest to begin the voting process.

New Hampshire wanted to keep its primary as scheduled, and Phillips focused much of his campaign there, ultimately winning about a fifth of last week's primary vote. Biden, who was not on the ballot, won the New Hampshire primary with 64 percent of the vote in a write-in campaign.

“Some of you may be wondering why this white, Jewish boy from the frozen tundra of Minnesota would show up with 95 percent of you — including most of you in this room — voting for Joe Biden,” Phillips said. “I'm here, everybody, I'm here to help us win.”

After launching her presidential bid in October, Phillips has stepped up her public criticism of the president in recent weeks. Although he has had some policy differences with Biden, the 55-year-old congressman has repeatedly lambasted Biden over his age and low approval ratings.

His comments have often echoed some of the attacks Biden has faced from Republican opponents, including questions about the president's physical and mental health.

“I don't see cognitive decline,” Phillips recently told Fox News' Sean Hannity. “Of course, we're seeing a physical and communication breakdown. I think that's evident with any video, but I don't think it's justified.

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For his part, Biden used his speech in South Carolina to attack Trump's cognitive abilities, referring to the former president's false claim that former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, not then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) Security during a riot in the US capital on January 6, 2021.

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“He's a little confused these days,” Biden said. “He can't tell the difference between Nancy Pelosi and Nikki Haley.”

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