US elections
Supporters demonstrate at a Joe Biden Write-In Rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, on January 20, 2024. AFP

With all eyes on Donald Trump's bid to lead Republicans back into the White House, Joe Biden's reelection push has slipped under the radar in an unusual start to his campaign.

After a dispute with officials in New Hampshire over scheduling, he will not be on the ballot when the state's primary kicks off the party's nomination process on Tuesday.

The quarrel threatens to leave the president in a theoretical third place among Democrat candidates, behind little-known gelato magnate Dean Phillips and low-polling self-help author Marianne Williamson.

"He is taking the Granite State for granted... He should be campaigning in New Hampshire, he should be showing up in front of voters," Phillips said at a debate with Williamson that Biden skipped.

"He should be on the ballot in New Hampshire, for goodness' sake. He's the president."

Biden lost badly in overwhelmingly white New Hampshire in his bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020 and was only rescued by strong support from African Americans in the South Carolina primary.

Once he was elected he effectively dethroned New Hampshire, along with fellow early nominating state Iowa, instructing the party leadership to place South Carolina ahead of both.

Iowa caved quietly but the move angered Democrats in New Hampshire, where first-in-the-nation status is a sacred cow, and the Republicans who control the state government in Concord ignored the directive in any case.

The Democratic National Committee responded by refusing to seat the state's delegates at the summer nominating convention in Chicago -- essentially denying New Hampshire its say.

Many grassroots Democrats worry that even though Biden is not on the ballot, his performance against Phillips and Williamson will be judged as a measure of his popularity.

So, despite their anger over Biden's snub, local activists have determined to ensure his supporters know they can write his name on the ballot.

Beneath a wintry Manchester sky, 20 or so hardy Biden supporters swaddled like Arctic explorers braved the biting cold Saturday to chant and wave banners that read: "Ask me about writing in Joe Biden."

They were even rewarded by a magnanimous cameo from Phillips, as the entrepreneur and US congressman came out of his nearby campaign headquarters to hand out coffee to his shivering opponents.

"We're all frustrated that (Biden's) not on the ballot," said Kathy Sullivan, 69, a retired lawyer from Manchester.

"But we put that aside because it's really important that Joe Biden beats Donald Trump in November."

Dan Seferian, 62, a retired state government worker who had traveled with wife Colleen from Reading, Massachusetts, hit out at Williamson and Phillips for not getting behind the Biden reelection campaign.

"I think they should stand behind the party and the incumbent president. Phillips, he's is a young man. He could run in 2028. He should have waited his turn," he told AFP.

Some Biden aides have reportedly voiced concerns that the write-in effort could fall short, delivering an unnecessary defeat.

Democratic presidents seeking reelection typically garner around 80 percent of the vote in the New Hampshire primary, and party strategists believe Biden needs to win somewhere around 60 percent to avoid humiliation.

"A win is a win, and I think we can deliver that," said New Hampshire state senator Donna Soucy, co-chair of the campaign.

"We've been working really hard on this write-in effort across the state, and I think voters today -- those of us that are out here bearing the cold -- are evidence of the enthusiasm for President Joe Biden."

Soucy acknowledged the frustration with Biden but blamed party officials in Washington rather than the president himself.

"It's a little more complicated to express our support in this election but we're still going to do it because we're devoted to our president," she said.