With presidential primaries looming, there is only one name on the official list of Democratic presidential candidates in Florida — President Biden — a move that angered the incumbent’s long-shot challengers, who say they’re being unfairly left out.
The decision is the latest setback for Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Marianne Williamson, both of whom trail Biden in public polling and fundraising.
Under Florida rules, the state’s party votes on who will appear on primary ballots. Florida’s Democratic Party said in a statement Friday that the executive committee voted unanimously late last month to name Biden, and only Biden, to its list of candidates.
If a presidential primary has a single candidate, state election law says that the uncontested race will not appear on the state’s primary ballot.
“Americans would expect the absence of democracy in Tehran, not Tallahassee,” Phillips said in a statement. “Our mission as Democrats is to defeat authoritarians, not become them.”
Williamson said in a statement that the move in Florida is meant to help Biden win the nomination “without any opposition.” Both candidates’ statements said their campaigns are considering legal options to gain access to Florida’s ballot.
In its statement, the Florida Democratic Party said the party’s actions were part of a “standard process,” and that “it is not uncommon for an incumbent President to be declared the automatic winner of a presidential primary.” The last time it happened was in 2012, when President Barack Obama ran for reelection, according to the statement.
The party said Phillips’s remarks were “unbecoming of someone running for the highest office” and that the organization would not “circumvent our bylaws and long-established processes for latecomers.” A spokesperson for the Biden campaign did not reply Friday to a request for comment.
Michael T. Morley, who teaches election law at Florida State University College of Law, told The Washington Post that both political parties in the state have lined up behind incumbent presidents and canceled primaries in the absence of credible challengers. He cited the reelection campaigns of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama as examples of this process in action.
“It seems well within the party’s discretion without trampling on democratic values” to do this, Morley said.
A person at the Democratic National Committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations, said the organization routinely offers to help campaigns, including Phillips’s, with navigating ballot access rules in various states. The Phillips campaign declined the offer, this person said.
Jeff Weaver, senior adviser to the Phillips campaign, confirmed the DNC offer but said in a statement “they would not have been helpful because we did everything the Florida selection plan required.”
Phillips’s campaign did not say whether he will campaign or purchase ads to run in Florida, which has 4.4 million active Democratic voters, according to the state’s election division.