President Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, has spent her first months on the job planning a sweeping national reelection effort by squatting in a borrowed office overlooking an Amtrak commuter line on Capitol Hill.
With just three other paid staffers, her entire operation cost $1.4 million from April through June — about an eighth of what President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign spent in the same period in 2011, when it operated out of an imposing office suite in Chicago nearly the size of a football field.
Biden aides say that skeletal quality is not a weakness but the plan.
Beyond the official campaign, much of the machinery that aims to reelect Biden has quietly been churning at full blast, as hundreds of staffers in the national Democratic Party, state affiliates, outside groups and the White House chip in on a broad strategy designed to exploit changes in campaign finance rules — even while the main campaign office itself has yet to be established.
Rodriguez calls it “a new playbook,” one that builds on a little-noticed 2014 Supreme Court ruling relaxing donation limits for wealthy individuals and embraces hard-learned lessons from the covid-engulfed 2020 campaign.
“The partnership has been unique and historic,” she said of the bond between her campaign and the Democratic National Committee, whose offices she has been borrowing while the campaign has not yet opened an official headquarters. “Efficiency is going to be important to us.”
It’s a stark break from the last Democratic presidential reelection campaign. Even when fully built, Biden’s operation will look little like Obama’s sprawling Chicago-based corporation, which included teams of software coders and data scientists, a high council of senior advisers, and hundreds of people who ran field organizing in battleground states.
Instead, Biden is essentially outsourcing much of his campaign to the DNC and party organizations in the 50 states and D.C. With outside groups, Biden insiders believe the total effort could spend as much as $2 billion by November 2024.
Because wealthy donors can now give exponentially more to a party than to a candidate, the joint strategy lets Biden rake in much larger individual checks than Obama ever could — with requests to top donors in excess of $900,000 for each of the next two years, in comparison with the $6,600 individuals can give directly to a presidential campaign.
Such money has been funding work once done by candidates and campaigns. It was DNC staffers, not the Biden campaign, that organized most of the fundraisers in recent months that allowed Biden to bring in $72 million, including events attended by party Chair Jaime Harrison. Of that total, only about $20 million went directly to the campaign, with the rest going to party accounts.
National party officials also have been paying for polling, research and message testing while separately building a largely digital field operation, including a TikTok “social ambassador” training in the past week, to lift the Democratic ticket next year. Party media bookers have been the putting campaign surrogates on television and then tracking the media impact.
“The DNC is not something separate,” said another senior Biden adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal strategy. “It’s the president’s DNC, the president’s list, the president’s people.”
If Biden’s gamble succeeds, his campaign’s tight connection with other Democratic groups around the country not only will strengthen his own efforts but also will catapult other Democrats into office, strengthening his hand in a second term. And while Obama was accused of leaving behind a depleted party infrastructure, Biden hopes to bequeath a powerful operation to his successors. [Continue reading…]