WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign has been hiding in plain sight all along.
The contours of the 2024 campaign that Biden will formally launch with a video on Tuesday will look a lot like his messaging and policy moves from the past few months: Play up accomplishments from his first two years, draw a sharp contrast with Republican policies he deems extreme, and brush off worries about his age.
Biden, aides contend, has essentially been campaigning since Republicans took control of the House last year, focused on showing Americans how his administration is implementing massive new infrastructure, technology and climate laws, and portraying Republicans as in the grip of the far right at a time when Washington is nearing a crucial fight over raising the nation’s borrowing limit.
While advisers say Biden’s activities and message in coming months will be largely indistinguishable from what he’s been doing over the last six months, the frame of reference will inevitably shift as voters increasingly tune in to 2024 political dynamics.
“President Biden is delivering and making the strong case for reelection before, during and after any formal campaign announcement," said Democratic consultant and former Biden spokesman Scott Mulhauser. “Rather than throwing darts at calendars, let’s focus on the President doing his job and doing it well, from an investing in America tour, an economy humming and unemployment at historic lows to a home run of a State of the Union, an expertly pulled-off Ukraine trip and more."
He added: "These wins on economic and political fronts onward are what success looks like, how incumbents win and matter far more than a campaign kick-off event."
Aides are planning for Biden's launch video to be released Tuesday, the four-year anniversary of his first successful campaign launch. He was expected to select Julie Rodriguez, a senior White House adviser, to manage his reelection campaign, according to two people familiar with deliberations.
“I told you I’m planning on running," Biden told reporters Monday. "I’ll let you know real soon.”
Biden has taken his time in making official his candidacy for reelection not because he’s wavered in his commitment to run, a half-dozen aides and advisers said, but because there was little incentive to do it sooner.
Incumbents — with the exception of former President Donald Trump, who filed for reelection on his Inauguration Day — tend to hold off on announcing as long as possible. Most deemed it easier to appeal to a wider swath of the populace when they were viewed outside the lens of electoral politics.
Leaks and private reassurances last year about Biden's intention to run, aides said, were designed to reinforce to the political class that the president was all-in for a second term and to ward off any serious rivals for the nomination. That effort largely succeeded, with only self-help author Marianne Williamson and anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. mounting largely symbolic challenges to Biden.
Even with Democrats giving Biden a clear path to the nomination, Biden faces a more uncertain general election picture, with the potential for a rematch with GOP frontrunner Trump, or a contest against one of the handful of other Republicans campaigning in part on ushering in a new generation of leadership. Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, continue to hammer Biden on government spending increases and inflation as they attempt to weaken him before the upcoming election.
Biden's decision to the launch the campaign now is largely driven by a desire to start fundraising: His last campaign raised more than $1 billion, and he'll need to marshal even more this time around.
He's expected to jumpstart that effort with a gathering for top donors in Washington on Friday. The president also needs to begin building the digital and field organizing operation for what aides expect to be a close general election owing to the country’s polarization, no matter who emerges as the GOP standard-bearer.
Biden's clear path to the 2024 nomination will be a markedly different experience from four years ago, when he was written off by much of the political establishment until he consolidated support as the candidate best positioned to defeat Trump. That campaign also took place under the unusual constraints associated with the coronavirus pandemic, which sharply limited travel and in-person politicking.
This time, Biden will have to juggle the challenge of running for office with the demands of running the country. Aides and allies contend that those priorities are one and the same.
“The single best thing Joe Biden can do for his reelection is to continue to be president of United States, and, when he’s out there barnstorming the country, talking about what he’s delivered and what he wants to do,” said Eric Schultz, a Democratic operative and spokesman for former President Barack Obama. “That’s exactly what he’s been doing.”
It's no coincidence that Biden's announcement is expected to land during a busy week for his presidency — the timing is meant to highlight his focus on governing rather than campaigning.
Biden's schedule for the week includes a Monday meeting with Tennessee lawmakers who were punished for protesting in support of gun control laws, a Tuesday speech to a trade union, a Wednesday state visit by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, and a weekend appearance at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. He'll also continue to shadowbox with congressional Republicans over how to raise the nation's borrowing authority.
The president, at 80 already the oldest person ever elected president, also knows he will have to contend with voter concerns about his fitness for the job. So far, he has brushed aside those concerns by repeatedly telling voters to just “watch me.”
Aides say he plans to mount a robust campaign when the time comes. Biden was set to ramp up fundraising in coming weeks for Democrats — and now for himself. But as far as holding larger campaign events, aides said Biden intends to follow a roadmap similar to Obama, who launched his reelection campaign in April 2011 but waited 13 months to hold his first official reelection campaign rally in May 2012.
Still, Biden faces skepticism even from members of his own party. Only about half of Democrats think he should run again in 2024, even if most are likely to fall in behind him if he becomes the nominee.
A recent poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that 26% of Americans overall want to see Biden run again — a slight recovery from the 22% who said that in January. Forty-seven percent of Democrats say they want him to run, also up slightly from only 37% who said that in January.
For all the talk of staying the course, aides acknowledge it's not enough for Biden to focus on what he’s gotten done. He's begun holding events to highlight popular components of his agenda that got left on the cutting room floor during the Democrats’ legislative blitz over the last two years.
For example, Biden last week held a Rose Garden gathering to showcase his efforts to boost affordability and quality of child and long-term care.
He’s also using the bully pulpit to push for strengthening gun control laws after recent high-profile shootings and to write into law a national right to abortion. Both are proposals his aides believe have the backing of most Americans, but they are unlikely to pass unless Democrats also win significant congressional majorities along with reelecting Biden.