Biden is building his re-election bid around an organization Obama shunned

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is banking his re-election bid on the political and financial muscle of the Democratic National Committee.

As he prepares for a deadly contest in 2024, his campaign plans to raise and spend around $2 billion. But he will do so in coordination with national and state Democratic parties, with the aim of establishing a coordinated campaign across the country. The idea is to strengthen grassroots, volunteer and data organizations, and ensure they work together to promote Biden and vote against Democratic candidates.

“The president is really rewriting the playbook in terms of what a re-election campaign looks like and how closely we partner with the DNC,” said Julie Chavez Rodriguez, Biden’s campaign manager, “and will continue to show, by all parameters, that we are running a successful campaign.”

The strategy is different from how the last Democratic president handled the DNC. Barack Obama largely eschewed the traditional party fundraising apparatus and instead raised money with his own groups, drawing on personal star power. This helped leave the DNC exhausted and in debt.

What Rodriguez called a “team, one-fight mentality” is allowing Democrats to raise money faster than Biden’s campaign itself, while letting the re-election effort keep its staffing and logistical expenses low as it relies on state and national parties to cover costs. The party says the plan keeps it politically and financially unified behind Biden, while Republican presidential candidates are locked in a contentious primary.

But President Donald Trump has shunned major serious challengers and teamed up with the Republican National Committee to raise more than $1 billion in 2020, without being re-elected. The Democrats’ model also calls for Biden’s 2024 campaign to rely more heavily on parties in major states where Republicans have dominated recent elections.

Rodriguez, however, pointed to the 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 historic precedent by retaining control of the Senate and only narrowly losing the House. The amount spent was more than double the committee’s previous mid-cycle record of $42 million before 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 list of volunteers 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 people and those of color.

The DNC has also developed systems for its volunteers to share localized content to bolster telephone banking and SMS to voters, and created a “relationship organization” to help existing volunteers potentially organize those closest to them. Sam Cornale, executive director of the DNC, said national and state parties will be able to hire organizers, recruit volunteers and speak to voters “as close to the year and every day as resources permit.”

“As we scale up this effort, you will see the state party payroll increase significantly,” Cornale said.

Fundraising is also easier since the DNC and the president’s affiliate fundraising arm, the Biden Victory Fund, can raise about $1 million a year from individual donors. Biden’s re-election campaign itself can only raise $6,600 per donor per year.

“The work that we know needs to happen, the wide range of it, the DNC and our state party partners can do it and pay for it,” Cornale said.

Cornale traveled with Rodriguez to appeal for funds, and reelection campaign staffers work from DNC headquarters in Washington until the Biden 2024 campaign opens its official base in Wilmington, Delaware, later this year. For now, the re-election campaign has less than 10 people on its payroll.

“It’s important that at this point we know where we’re investing and how we’re building and growing,” Rodriguez said.

The DNC’s staff, by contrast, has grown to more than 300, double its size before the 2016 and 2012 presidential elections.

National Democrats previewed their approach to 2024 in major Wisconsin state races this spring. The DNC sent Biden-signed fundraising emails for the Wisconsin Democratic Party and held in-state robocalls with South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, a close ally of the president in Congress.

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 from traditional party entities. The move also came amid concerns the DNC was too closely aligned with Obama’s main challenger, Hillary Clinton.

But the DNC and state party chairs have complained about competing with Organizing for America for donors. The group went through various iterations, eventually becoming part of the DNC. Still, the committee was millions of dollars in debt through 2019.

Jim Messina, who managed Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, said he reached joint fundraising agreements, which relax donor limits, with Democratic parties in 10 battleground states, as well as New York and California – while Biden 2024 reached agreements with all 50 states. He also noted that Biden has been “long a mainstream Democrat” more so than Obama.

“He came from the democratic world,” Messina said. “He understands the DNC whereas, because Obama was running against Hillary, who kind of controlled the DNC, he built a grassroots movement out of it.”

The Biden campaign and DNC have raised more than $72 million in the 10 weeks since the president’s re-election announcement. This followed the $85.6 million Obama took in during the April-June quarter in 2011, despite launching three weeks earlier than Biden.

Messina said, however, he was most excited about the $77 million in coffers from DNC and Biden affiliates on June 30. He said it showed campaign discipline by allowing the party to cover costs.

“I admire how little money they spent,” Messina said.

The DNC paid for Biden’s first 2024 TV spots, as well as publicity on issues like advocating for abortion rights, while funding 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 attorney general and former DNC vice president, said all of this means “the DNC is a better organization than it was five or ten years ago.”

“Now we are on our feet again,” he said. “There is still a lot of reinforcement to be done.”

Ellison said going forward, the committee needs to make sure he doesn’t “turn into a little appendage of Biden,” and called it a “legitimate concern.” He also said state parties needed to make more progress in places like New York, where midterm Republican House victories helped the GOP reclaim the chamber last year.

Indeed, relying more on state parties will require coordination with officials in solidly Republican places, like Texas, or battlegrounds that once turned increasingly red, like Ohio and Florida.

Kevin Cate, a longtime Florida political strategist and veteran of Obama’s 2008 campaign, said Democrat Donna Deegan’s May victory in the Jacksonville mayoral race was cause for optimism, and shrugged off suggestions that Republicans winning in recent statewide races have left Florida Democrats too weak to do what the DNC needs.

“I think the bigger concern here is that the DNC will give up and let the party fall apart,” he shot back.

A recent strategy memo said the re-election campaign would remain aggressive in Florida and North Carolina. Missing was Texas, where Democrats have not won a statewide mandate in nearly 30 years.

Still, Democratic Texas President Gilberto Hinojosa said the DNC has since told him the original strategy list “was not exhaustive.”

“What they told me is that Texas will be a battleground state,” Hinojosa said, noting that financially the party “hasn’t given us the love so far.”

“Now what that means,” he added, “depends on how things look in the future.”

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