Biden’s Slow Hiring in Key States Starts to Worry Some Democrats

Biden Campaign Lags in Hiring Top Staff in Battleground States

Joe Biden’s campaign has only begun to hire top officials in key states, leaving him without senior staff in battlegrounds like Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida, alarming some Democrats who say the leadership vacuum could hinder the party’s efforts to defeat President Donald Trump in November.

The campaign said Friday that Jessica Mejia, Biden’s California state director during the Democratic primaries, will be the Arizona state director while Andrew Piatt, the manager of Kyrsten Sinema’s successful 2018 Senate campaign, will be a senior adviser. Those roles in other states have not been filled.

The Arizona hires are an exception to a process that has moved more slowly than campaign officials had initially indicated, according to four Democratic officials briefed on the campaign’s operations who requested anonymity to disclose private conversations.

The officials said campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon and senior adviser Greg Schultz have acknowledged that the campaign missed its self-imposed deadline for leaders in the battleground states to be in place by the start of June and has moved it to July 1.

State directors oversee the day-to-day running of the campaign and are key to executing its broader strategy. Despite the fact that Biden is leading in polls, vacancies at that level could make organizing difficult in competitive states. The Democrats said while the delay is not catastrophic, they are concerned by the campaign’s protracted hiring process and its effect on building a robust operation heading into the general election.

The Democratic National Committee and the Biden Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that includes key state parties, now have hundreds of staffers working on organization, outreach, voter protection, operations, and communications, according to a DNC official. O’Malley Dillon told reporters in May that the campaign would have 600 staff in battleground states in place by the end of June, and a campaign official said it had already met that goal.

Another campaign official said that June 1 was the goal to identify finalists for state director posts but was never intended to be the date by which the campaign would have announced its roster. While state directors are often announced without state leadership staff fully in place, Biden’s team said it is only finalizing its hires once it’s decided on the top few staffers in a state.

The Biden campaign shared the Arizona hires only after nearly a week of questions about its operations in battleground states.

O’Malley Dillon took over as campaign manager in mid-March, inheriting an operation that was much smaller than those of Biden’s top primary opponents. In the months since, she has hired a number of senior advisers to work on strategy, fundraising and outreach at the national level.

But two other people familiar with the hiring process who also spoke on condition of anonymity said candidates for high level jobs have been promised answers within days of their interviews only to wait weeks without being told whether they’re being hired. Others have been told that while the campaign wants them, the final decision still needs approval.

Jenn Ridder, Biden’s national states director, said the campaign is working “strategically” to fill state jobs. “We’re thinking about what makes a team in a state. We’re bringing on political directors, senior advisers at the same time as our state director. We want to make sure we look at the states holistically,” she said.

Clinton Comparison

The coronavirus pandemic has complicated hiring, but compared to other campaigns and election cycles, Biden is notably behind.

By contrast, Trump and the Republican National Committee have been staffing up in key states for months. The joint operation between the campaign and the RNC has state directors in 17 states and more than 1,100 staff in the field.

And in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign began rolling out its state general election leadership teams while it was still fighting a primary race against Senator Bernie Sanders. Her team announced state directors in Colorado, Florida and New Hampshire in late April and had five more in place in early May. One of the latest rollouts came on June 21 when the Clinton campaign announced its state director and senior team in Michigan.

Even without senior staff in place, Biden is ahead of Trump in recent polls nationally and in battleground states, as the president struggles to respond to the pandemic and nationwide protests over police brutality. And while Biden’s operations in the states lagged far behind his opponents in the Democratic primary, he was able to pull off dramatic wins on Super Tuesday and beyond.

Despite the lack of staffers on the ground, the Biden operation has been working with state parties and holding virtual events in battleground states. The campaign is hosting Juneteenth events in eight states on Friday and held dozens more organizing events over the past week. The campaign has also hired Gabe Amo, a former aide to Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and Obama White House staffer, to serve as a headquarters-based states strategy and program adviser.

“Our state party has been hiring new organizers and we consider ourselves an extension essentially of the Biden team because we’re all working toward the same goal, which is making sure that we have a foundation laid to continue the momentum -- or Joementum -- that we’ve seen, to make sure that we’re perfectly positioned to win November,” said William McCurdy, the chairman of the Nevada Democratic Party.

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