DES MOINES, Iowa – Three days before the Iowa caucuses begin the 2020 nominating process, Joe Biden’s campaign manager downplayed the significance of Iowa and New Hampshire and prepped supporters for an extended primary season.
“The vice president has said many times: Monday’s contest begins the process, it doesn’t end it,” Greg Schultz wrote in a Friday memo obtained by The Associated Press.
Schultz told supporters that Biden will be “competitive” in the battle for “a small number of delegates” at stake in the first two Democratic presidential contests, but he devoted much of the two-page document to explaining why Biden is “well-positioned to win” a nominating fight that could last “into the summer.”
The memo came hours before the Biden campaign disclosed that it had only about $9 million on hand to start the year, a precariously low sum with the expensive months of travel, advertising and personnel costs ahead for campaigns. Schultz did not mention the cash-on-hand figure in the document. The campaign will need to engender confidence among donors if it hopes to sustain the kind of lengthy effort Schultz described, particularly with billionaire Michael Bloomberg looming with a self-financed campaign that is on track to spend hundreds of millions of dollars.
Schultz stopped short of predicting a brokered convention, with no candidate securing the required delegate majority in advance. But he announced the hiring of a top delegate strategist, David Huynh, and the addition of several fundraising heavy hitters as evidence of the campaign's preparation for a long fight.
The memo is consistent with the Biden campaign’s argument that the first two contests won’t determine the nominee, given that much more racially diverse states follow that are better territory for the former vice president and award more delegates. But it’s a strikingly different approach from that of rivals like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who boasted in recent days that he can sweep Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada.
Biden himself acted as pundit Friday as he campaigned in Mount Pleasant, telling reporters he expects to do well in Iowa. “It’s gonna remain bunched up, I think,” he said.
The first four nominating contests spread across February should be viewed, Biden continued, “as a package” to assess “who can represent every aspect of the Democratic Party.” He noted his polling advantage in the fourth state, South Carolina, calling it his "firewall.”
The Schultz memo didn't mention Sanders but countered the idea that any candidate can build unstoppable momentum this early. "It’s highly possible there will be a small delegate differential among the top candidates on February 4 and February 12,” Schultz wrote.
That's where Huynh, one of the party’s foremost delegates and rules experts, could prove critical as Biden's newest aide. Huynh worked previously for California Sen. Kamala Harris’ now-defunct 2020 presidential campaign, and he was a top delegate adviser to Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, earning the nickname “Delegate Dave” in the process.
Schultz emphasized several new additions to Biden’s national finance team, including former Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, a billionaire businesswoman and sister to Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker; Marc Lasry, the billionaire co-owner of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks; and former Ambassador Rufus Gifford, a prodigious fundraiser who served as the finance chairman of President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Schultz wrote that Biden had the best fundraising month of his campaign in January, despite avoiding any specifics. Biden raised $22.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2018, which was his best quarter since joining the field in April.
Red flags went up in October after Biden reported having about the same $9 million on hand at the end of September that he just reported having at the start of the year. But aides and some donors insist that many deep-pocketed Democrats who’d been on the sidelines for months have started contributing, while Biden also picked up support as other candidates, including Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, dropped out. Schultz also said Biden’s digital fundraising has accelerated.
Polls in Iowa show Biden is in a cluster with Sanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. The race is also competitive in New Hampshire. But Biden has consistently held leads among nonwhite Democratic voters who make up a larger proportion of the electorate in the states that follow, starting with the Nevada caucuses and then the South Carolina primary. The slate of Super Tuesday states also is racially and ethnically diverse.
More than a third of Democrats’ almost-4,000 pledged convention delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday. Democrats award delegates proportionately to candidates who get at least 15% of the statewide vote or 15% in a congressional district. With the potential for several viable campaigns, that could mean it will take months before any candidate can cobble together a majority of pledged delegates.
“Having Dave head up that process for us is an enormous advantage,” Schultz wrote, “and we’re excited to have him on board.”
Associated Press writer Alexandra Jaffe contributed to this report from Mount Pleasant, Iowa.
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