He is 80 years old. He has a demanding day job. And he was never the most electrifying campaigner in the world to begin with. To win his re-election, President Joe Biden plans to enlist a large circle of friends and allies to go where he can’t, say what he doesn’t want, and become what he never will be.
Campaign proxies are nothing new. William McKinley fielded 1,400 men when he campaigned for the White House in 1896, while greeting his supporters largely from the porch of his Ohio home.
But Biden’s burgeoning re-election campaign has invested early — before he even had headquarters and before what former President Barack Obama did in 2012 — in an unusually robust operation that veteran activists say is designed to usurp the Democratic Party’s star power of which lives outside the White House.
“President Biden, as he proved this week, is very busy being president,” said Senator Chris Coons, D-Del., a campaign co-chair who was one of several vice-chairmen turning to cable news journalists and other journalists made available while Biden was abroad last week. “Our president has assembled a group that includes some really promising rising leaders from across the country.”
At best, campaign proxies are a win-win: the campaign gains force multipliers, validators, and access to its base networks. The surrogates, meanwhile, get important appetizers, a little attention, and a few sundries to redeem.
But surrogates also have their own interests and inclinations and – a well documented tendency To Go off the script. And over-reliance on them could expose Biden to criticism for repeating the so-called “basement campaign” of 2020 because he is unable or unwilling to falter himself. (Former President Donald Trump frequently mocked Biden for being off the campaign trail.)
“Part of a re-election campaign means that the president is actively ruling as president. That’s the reality. That’s why I think you want to look at the reality shrewdly, using the networks and other voices in the party,” said a source familiar with the campaign planning and remaining anonymous to discuss the inner workings.
The campaign said it has already coordinated over 185 interviews across a variety of national and local media outlets, in both English and Spanish, a wide-ranging, multi-platform approach they hope will help the message break through in a fragmented media landscape becomes.
The campaign’s key deputies — its six co-chairs and the 50 members of its National Advisory Council, plus Vice President Kamala Harris — were chosen not just for their loyalty, reputation or political needs, but because they all agreed to be available and get the job done.
“We expect to be very active,” said Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., the 26-year-old progressive freshman who is a rising star on the left. “It’s definitely more than a list of 50 names. I think the President really wants to put together a list of people who are willing to work.”
That means appearing at fundraisers and in-person events, attending media interviews, posting on social media, and leveraging their own local support networks. Administration officials and many others will also be there, such as when Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg recently appeared at a Biden fundraiser in New York.
Jim Messina, who ran Obama’s re-election campaign, said surrogate mothers are critical to fundraising efforts and as external validators for an electorate that is increasingly cynical about politics. And the sheer number of media outlets and social media platforms these days means the campaign needs a lot of help to reach them all, he said.
“True, what wasn’t the case ten years ago, is that you can’t just reuse the usual topics of conversation. This won’t go viral, it won’t break through. So you need people who can speak in their own voice,” Messina said. “Will it work every time? No. Will there be times when someone will say something that you naturally wish they hadn’t said exactly that way? But overall it will be more real and authentic.”
Frost is one of several members on Biden’s advisory board, along with well-known names such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif, who belong to a different ideological wing of the party or have at times even criticized him.
“I still think in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin he’s our best bet to win those states,” Khanna, who has traveled to Iowa and New Hampshire to consider a possible future presidential nomination, said of Biden on NBC News. Meet the Press” last month.
Also on the list are the two Democratic officials who seemed most likely to consider considering Biden as the main challenger last year: California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, according to a Lyndon Johnson style Philosophy of keeping enemies close. The list also includes potential future presidential candidates such as governors. Josh Shapiro from Pennsylvania and Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan.
“He’s making a very concerted effort to get everyone involved,” said Chris Huntley, a Democratic speechwriter and strategist. “There’s nothing wrong with bringing together the Avengers of Alternates, who all have different powers and abilities … and show our party’s present and future.”
Four years ago, Republicans scoffed at Biden’s pandemic-era “basement campaign” and worried Democrats when the candidate largely eschewed in-person events in favor of Zoom meetings and recorded video messages. And he would hardly be the first incumbent president to wage a so-called “Rose Garden campaign” that focuses more on governing from the White House than baiting a swing state.
Of course, Biden’s low-key campaign won in 2020 and most presidents are re-elected, with the recent exception that Trump is the most campaigned incumbent.
Biden’s heavy reliance on deputies is sure to draw similar criticism this time around, especially as Trump and other conservatives argue that Biden lacks the physical and mental vitality for the job.
But his allies say the president should try to keep the conversation going on the campaign trail and let them do the harder work of responding to Trump and other Republicans.
“I think it’s going to be a real team effort to support the president and get his message out there so the world doesn’t have to depend on him alone,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul and Democratic mega-donor who also testified Biden campaign co-chairman in an interview. “I think that’s the most important thing he can do in terms of running for re-election – to do what you did. Unlike the person who last occupied the White House.”
Still, relying on others to do the work for you has its limitations, as became clear this month when New York City Mayor Eric Adams was not included on the Biden advisory committee after he criticized the White House’s handling of migrants had criticized, although he remains a supporter in the election campaign and is still considered a substitute.
And proxies, especially political ones, sometimes bring their own provincial demands. For example, during the 2020 Biden campaign, Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams said she would only agree to a proxy role if she was willing to invest millions to try and win her state. after to her former campaign manager.
Frost said he has lobbied to ensure Florida remains a priority in the campaign, even as some Democrats say Biden should write off the extremely expensive state, which has sided with Republicans in recent years. “If you look at the numbers, Florida is a state you wouldn’t want to give up,” he said. “I made those arguments and I’ve been reassured by a lot of people.”
He welcomes the chance to make those arguments, even if it means constantly talking about Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has just entered the presidential race. “I already talk about DeSantis every day and I expect to continue to do so,” Frost said.