COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s early presidential campaign travel itinerary leaves little doubt about his strategy in early voting states.
Biden’s one-two Iowa-South Carolina punch next week underscores the three-time Democratic presidential candidate’s need to finish near the top in the leadoff Iowa caucuses as a way of building momentum for South Carolina, home to the first Southern primary. The former vice president has a combination of strengths and enduring relationships in South Carolina that could seal him as the front-runner heading into the later contests.
Next week, Biden plans to begin a two-day trip to Iowa, starting in Cedar Rapids, a working-class eastern city. Early polls have shown him as the most preferred candidate despite his absence and the robust campaigns of more than a dozen other contenders that are already months underway.
Biden landed veteran organizer Jesse Harris as a senior Iowa adviser, according to people with knowledge of the campaign’s hires, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to pre-empt the campaign’s announcement.
Harris was on Barack Obama’s winning Iowa caucus campaign and helped him carry the state in 2008. Harris is known as a savvy early-vote strategist at a time when the Iowa caucuses are experimenting with virtual and early caucusing.
Biden’s relationship with South Carolina dates back decades, to his enduring friendships with fellow long-serving senators such as Fritz Hollings, whom Biden eulogized last week in Charleston, near where Biden and his family have vacationed regularly.
Biden also has deep relationships with the state’s African American voters — who comprise a large swath of its Democratic electorate — as well as inroads with many of the retired military veterans who have come from all over to retire in the state. Likewise, Biden’s centrist tendencies are expected to appeal to some moderate Republicans, who can participate in the open Democratic primary.
As other campaigns have staffed up in South Carolina, operatives and officials alike have mused publicly about the waiting game created by Biden’s delay in entering the race, but his two top hires are experienced strategists with proven track records.
Kendall Corley, Obama’s South Carolina director in 2008 and 2012 and a specialist in African American voter outreach, will serve as Biden’s state director. Deputy director Mariah Hill managed the 2018 campaign of U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham, who became the first Democrat in decades to flip a South Carolina congressional seat from red to blue. Hill was also a field organizer for Martin O’Malley’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Reporting of the full team prompted reaction from many in the state’s Democratic circles. On Twitter, Brady Quirk-Garvan — who stepped down as Charleston County Democratic chairman to endorse Sen. Cory Booker’s 2020 campaign — said, “I’m Team Booker all the way but this is an amazingly solid SC team. ... Biden is lucky to have you!”
Biden also has plans to visit the early voting states of Nevada and New Hampshire ahead of a May 18 national event in Philadelphia.
Apart from Biden’s first steps in the early-state campaign, he is sending a clear message about a general election strategy by making a stop Monday in Pittsburgh, the working-class heart of his childhood home state of Pennsylvania. There, he’ll receive the endorsement of the International Association of Fire Fighters and speak about rebuilding the middle class.
In winning back a series of Northern states that had long been carried by Democrats, Donald Trump carried Pennsylvania. He swamped Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state’s west, which resonates culturally and economically with eastern Ohio, southeast Michigan and southeast Wisconsin — three other states that Trump, a Republican, went on to win.
A Democrat could win an Electoral College majority in 2020 by carrying all the states that Clinton won and adding Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.