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What Biden's First Hires Say About His Re-Elect
Of hovering Boomers, Hispanics and Georgia.
Joe Biden turned the ignition key on his re-election apparatus this week with the release of a largely forgettable video and the unveiling of two top hires that offer useful clues into his team’s 2024 mindset.
Julie Chavez Rodriguez, a deputy on the 2020 run turned Intergovernmental Affairs director in the White House, will manage Round 2, with Quentin Fulks – a 34-year-old native Georgian who steered Raphael Warnock’s successful re-election through the gauntlet of a high-wire run-off – as her deputy.
I communicated with seven wired Democrats – operatives, donors and elected officials – both inside and outside the Biden network to retrieve their early reads from the Rodriguez-Fulks appointments.
Here are my reported findings that lend a glimpse into #DarkBrandon’s game plan for four more>
THE BLESSING OF THE OLD GUARD
For Rodriguez to have been elevated, she must’ve earned the ironclad trust of the old guard core of Team Biden – Mike Donilon, Steve Richetti, Anita Dunn, Ron Klain and newer entrant Jen O’Malley Dillon – through her work as IGA director, a hot-fire but low visibility position that requires unimpaired versatility, obsessive attention to minutiae and constant relationship soothing.
“I will warn you up front I think the world of her. She is an extraordinary talent,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who forged a relationship with Rodriguez through the Covid pandemic and the recovery from Hurricane Ida.
“The IGA person, for a governor, is the most important person in the White House. She has to deal with enormous complexities every day. She has to get right that balance between flying 1-inch off the ground versus 10,000 feet, she does that extremely well. She’s had a big job. It may not be directly a campaign manager’s job, but it’s just as hard and just as complex.”
Which is to say, Rodriguez can do the blocking and tackling and plot the daily X’s and O’s necessary to run a billion dollar operation. She can delegate and coordinate with competence. But that doesn’t mean she’ll be making the toughest calls on the field when things get hairy.
“Seems like she’s going to be a figurehead, so the West Wing can keep control,” texted a Biden ally.
Recall that Biden’s first campaign manager in 2020 – Greg Schultz – did not survive the primary, as he was ultimately replaced by the Old Guard, who coaxed a reluctant O’Malley Dillon to take the reins just as Biden was creeping toward a comeback.
Truth serum: It’ll be much harder to fire a woman, especially a Latina with strong ties to working class minority movement activists. Alejandro Mayorkas and Xavier Becerra have survived turbulent tenures in the Biden Cabinet despite causes for termination. Rodriguez might just be … unfireable.
‘THEY ARE WORRIED ABOUT THE HISPANIC VOTE’
Hispanics! – that complex amalgamation of subgroups that trace their heritage to Latin America or Spain and now comprise a record 19% of the U.S. population – will again be a center of attention for both parties, especially given former President Donald Trump’s gains in Miami-Dade and the Rio Grande Valley in 2020
Rodriguez steered Biden’s Hispanic outreach efforts in 2020 and elevating the 45-year-old Latina only underlines Bidenworld’s commitment to the treasured, but often misunderstood demographic which prioritizes their issues more similarly to white voters than many casually assume.
“Julie is a solid manager and knows enough good people to be successful,” said a Democratic operative who worked in the trenches of battleground states in both 2020 and 2022.
He added, “Also, says they are worried about [the] Hispanic vote. Especially against [Ron] DeSantis…Lots pissed about foot-dragging on rolling Trump policies back,” i.e. the Biden administration’s expansion of emergency restrictions on migrants at the border first implemented by Trump during the pandemic.
Maria Cardona, a TV-ready Latina White House ally, argued that the installment of Rodriguez demonstrates intention to make Hispanics a priority from the beginning.
“Concern and worry is something any campaign should always be [showing towards] a community that’s been supportive of them in the past,” Cardona said, not completely dismissing the potential for vulnerability. “There’s no question immigration has been this intractable difficult issue for every president in recent history.”
THE FULKS FACTOR & GEORGIA
Since Rodriguez was a deputy last cycle, it’s important to pay attention to the 34-year-old Fulks, her deputy, who will most likely be running a 2028 Democratic campaign for president no matter what result comes in 2024.
Fulks, who has earned high praise from his Democratic operative colleagues for his teamwork and political finesse, built his reputation in Illinois inside the political operation of Gov. JB Pritzker (future POTUS candidate?).
Then, in 2022 he pulled off the high-wire act of helping get Warnock re-elected in his home state.
“He’s very young and did it in a very hard space … winning in a brave new Covid world,” said a Biden staffer.
Georgia’s 16 electoral votes will obviously be a marquee battleground and Fulks will be able to dust off and adjust his Warnock playbook for Biden, who squeaked through in 2020 by just 11,779 votes.
Fulks knows where the bodies are buried in Georgia and he’ll give Biden the remarkable opportunity to bury Trump (or maybe DeSantis) in what used to be the reliably Republican South.