Two people with knowledge of the decision confirmed that Dunn, once the top communications aide in President Barack Obama’s White House, would take on an elevated role, but that campaign manager Greg Schultz would retain his title. One of the people told The Associated Press that Dunn will have final decision-making authority. The people spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal campaign strategy.
The New York Times first reported that Dunn would take on a new role, citing an email sent Friday from Schultz and longtime Biden aide Steve Ricchetti to the campaign staff and some key supporters. Dunn, Ricchetti and Schultz didn't immediately respond to requests for comment by the AP.
News of the change broke hours before Biden takes the stage Friday evening for a debate in New Hampshire, where the former vice president spent the days since Monday’s Iowa caucuses taking a much more aggressive posture against some of his top rivals. It also comes just days before New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary.
Senior campaign aides told reporters Friday in a predebate call that the personnel shifts should not be read as panic or an adjustment in Biden’s well-established strategy to lean heavily on primaries and caucuses that, unlike Iowa and New Hampshire, have racially diverse electorates. Aides notes that Dunn already was among the senior leadership team before Friday.
Still, the shift is nonetheless a tacit acknowledgment that fourth place, even in overwhelmingly white states, is damaging to Biden’s prospects looking ahead to the Feb. 22 Nevada caucuses, the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary and the March 3 “Super Tuesday” slate.
Biden has led most national polls of Democratic primary voters since joining the race in April. But he’s faced persistent doubts about the quality of his campaign operation in the early nominating states, and his fundraising has lagged other leading contenders.
He reported just $9 million in cash on hand to start the year, a sum dwarfed by his rivals who finished ahead of him in Iowa: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
He’s also facing pressure from donors who are eyeing former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a megabillionaire who is skipping the first four states on the presidential calendar and instead pumping massive amounts of his personal fortune into Super Tuesday advertising.
Elevating Dunn is seen, at the least, as a signal to donors that the former vice president recognizes the make-or-break nature of the coming weeks in the primary campaign, as some of his top backers voice their concern that he’s squandering his advantages as a former vice president with a lead in national polling and perceived strength as a general election challenger to President Donald Trump.
Beyond symbolism for donors, the move can be seen as Biden’s attempt to clarify a leadership structure that aides and donors have described as muddled between an older generation of aides, like Ricchetti, and a new guard, including Schultz, that first joined him in lesser roles when he was vice president or since then.
At 62, Dunn splits the difference: She’s similar in age to Biden’s long-standing inner circle, but she hails more from Obama’s political orbit, having risen to acting White House communications director. She’s now a principal in a Democratic consulting firm based in Washington.
Schultz became campaign manager after having worked for Biden while he was vice president and then managing Biden’s political affairs as former vice president. Schultz traveled extensively with Biden as he campaigned for Democrats during the 2018 midterms. He helped build out Biden’s national and state campaign staff for 2020, and he’s been a main point of contact on the campaign for many donors.
But Richetti, a campaign senior adviser who was Biden’s last chief of staff in the West Wing, has been seen as perhaps the most dominant figure in the campaign. He’s joined by Bruce Reed, another former Biden chief of staff, and Mike Donilon, who has been a consultant for Biden’s campaigns since the early 1980s, when Biden was a Delaware senator.
Besides those official roles, Biden also still talks with perhaps his oldest political friend and former aide, Ted Kaufman, who was appointed to Biden's seat in the Senate when he became vice president, and with his sister, Valerie Biden, who had managed his campaigns for decades. Neither Kaufman nor Valerie Biden has an official role on the 2020 campaign.
Besides Schultz, Biden’s inner circle in the current campaign also includes Kate Bedingfield. She joined Biden as a White House communications staffer in his vice presidential office; she’s now deputy campaign manager and one of his most regular confidants. Symone Sanders, who worked for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, also has become a fixture on the road with Biden and is, according to aides, someone whose counsel the candidate seeks. Bedingfield and Sanders also are the most frequent television spokeswomen for Biden.
Even if Dunn’s elevation leaves Biden’s strategy or tactics unchanged, the shift could tilt influence inside the campaign toward those newer faces in the communications branch of his 2020 staff.
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