Biden is building his 2024 reelection bid around an organization Obama shunned
Jul 20, 2023, 9:06 PM | Updated: Jul 21, 2023, 2:18 am
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is staking his reelection bid on the political and financial muscle of the Democratic National Committee.
As it prepares for a bruising 2024 contest, his campaign plans to raise and spend around $2 billion. But it will do so in coordination with the national and state Democratic parties, in an effort to establish a coordinated campaign around the country. The idea is to bolster field, volunteer and data organizations, and ensure they work jointly to promote Biden and down-ballot Democratic candidates.
“The president is really rewriting the playbook when it comes to what a reelection campaign looks like and how we are in deep partnership with the DNC,” said Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, “and will continue to show, by all metrics, that we’re running a successful campaign.”
The strategy is different from the way the last Democratic president treated the DNC. Barack Obama largely shunned the party’s traditional fundraising apparatus and instead raised money with his own groups, relying on personal star power. That helped leave the DNC depleted and in debt.
What Rodriguez called a “one-team, one-fight mentality” allows Democrats to raise money faster than Biden’s campaign can itself, while letting the reelection effort keep its staffing and logistical expenses low as it relies on state and national parties to cover costs. The party says the plan lets it remain unified politically and financially behind Biden, while Republican presidential candidates are locked in a contentious primary.
But President Donald Trump avoided serious primary challengers and teamed with the Republican National Committee to take in more than $1 billion in 2020, without winning reelection. The Democrats’ model also requires Biden’s 2024 campaign to lean more heavily on parties in major states where Republicans have dominated recent elections.
Rodriguez, though, pointed to Democrats’ success in last year’s midterm races, when the DNC spent $95 million on campaigns across the country and helped the party’s candidates defy historical precedent by maintaining control of the Senate and only narrowly losing the House. The amount spent was more than double the committee’s previous midterm cycle record of $42 million ahead of the 2010 race.
Biden’s 2020 campaign gave the national party its supporter and fundraising data after Inauguration Day in 2021. And the DNC says it has since expanded the volunteer list to 250,000 in all 50 states. Rodriguez said the committee is now building and testing new precision online targeting tools to better reach voters on social media, especially young ones and those of color.
The DNC also has developed systems allowing its volunteers to share localized content to bolster phone banking and texting to voters, and created “relational organizing” to help existing volunteers potentially organize people closest to them. Sam Cornale, the DNC’s executive director, said that national and state parties will be able to hire organizers, recruit volunteers and talk to voters “as close to year-round and every day as resources allow.”
“As we are scaling this effort, you will see state party payrolls increase dramatically,” Cornale said.
Fundraising is also easier since the DNC and the president’s affiliated fundraising arm, the Biden Victory Fund, can raise roughly $1 million annually from individual donors. Biden’s reelection campaign itself can only collect $6,600 per donor, per year.
“The work that we know needs to happen, the broad swath of it, the DNC and our state party partners can do, and pay for,” Cornale said.
Cornale has traveled with Rodriguez to make fundraising pitches, and reelection campaign staffers are working out of the DNC’s Washington headquarters until the Biden 2024 campaign opens its official base in Wilmington, Delaware, later this year. For now, the reelection campaign has fewer than 10 people on its payroll.
“It’s important that, at this stage, we’re smart about where we’re investing and how we’re building and growing,” Rodriguez said.
The DNC staff, by contrast, has grown to 300-plus, double its size prior to the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections.
National Democrats previewed their 2024 approach in key Wisconsin state races this spring. The DNC sent Biden-signed fundraising emails for the Wisconsin Democratic Party, and organized in-state robocalls with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a close congressional ally of the president.
For his part, Obama created his own political operation, Organizing for America, which was meant to capitalize on a 2008 campaign that appealed to swing voters who might have been alienated by traditional party entities. The move also came amid concerns the DNC was too closely aligned with Obama’s presidential primary opponent, Hillary Clinton.
But DNC and state party chairs complained about competing with Organizing for America for donors. The group went through various iterations, eventually ending up as part of the DNC. Still, the committee was millions of dollars in debt until 2019.
Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, said it secured joint fundraising agreements, which ease donor limits, with Democratic parties in 10 battleground states, plus New York and California — while Biden 2024 has agreements with all 50 states. He also noted that Biden has “long been a traditional Democrat” more than Obama.
“He came from the Democratic world,” Messina said. “He understands the DNC whereas, because Obama was running against Hillary, who sort of had control of the DNC, he built a grassroots movement outside of it.”
The Biden campaign and DNC raised $72-plus million in the 10 weeks since the president announced his reelection. That trailed the $85.6 million Obama took in during the April-to-June quarter in 2011, though he launched three weeks earlier than Biden.
Messina said, however, that he was most excited about the DNC and Biden affiliates’ cash-on-hand of $77 million on June 30. He said that showed the campaign’s discipline in allowing the party to cover costs.
“I admire how little money they’ve spent,” Messina said.
The DNC has paid for early Biden 2024 TV spots, as well as advertising around issues like defending abortion rights, while also financing the president’s fundraising events. Biden’s first 2024 campaign rally in June was with powerful unions who paid for the event themselves.
Keith Ellison, Minnesota’s attorney general and former DNC deputy chair, said all of this means “the DNC is a better organization than it was five, 10 years ago.”
“Now we’re back on our feet,” he said. “There’s still a lot of strengthening that needs to happen.”
Ellison said that, going forward, the committee must ensure it doesn’t “turn into a little appendage of Biden,” and called getting “too wrapped around the existing president” a “legitimate concern.” He also said that state parties need to make more progress in places like New York, where Republican midterm House victories helped the GOP reclaim the chamber last year.
Indeed, relying more heavily on state parties will require coordinating with officials in solidly Republican places, like Texas, or onetime battlegrounds that have become increasingly red, such as Ohio and Florida.
Kevin Cate, a longtime Florida political strategist and veteran of Obama’s 2008 campaign, said the May victory of Democrat Donna Deegan in Jacksonville’s mayoral race is reason for optimism, and shrugged off suggestions Republican wins in recent statewide races have left Florida Democrats too weak to do what the DNC needs.
“I think the biggest concern here is the DNC just giving up and letting the party flail,” he countered.
A recent strategy memo said the reelection campaign would stay on the offensive in Florida and North Carolina. Absent was Texas, where Democrats haven’t won statewide office in nearly 30 years.
Still, Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said the DNC has since told him that the original strategy list “wasn’t comprehensive.”
“What they’ve told me is that Texas will be a battleground state,” Hinojosa said, noting that, financially, the party “hasn’t given us the love up until now.”
“Now, what that means,” he added, “depends on how things look in the future.”