Inside the Biden campaign's Democratic unity strategy, where Buttigieg and Warren are raising millions of dollars and Bernie is being Bernie

  • Joe Biden is leaning on his former 2020 Democratic primary rivals to raise millions of dollars and amplify his anti-Donald Trump messaging.
  • Pete Buttigieg, for one, has raised nearly $10 million for Biden, and Elizabeth Warren is not far behind with a nearly $8 million haul, Insider has learned.
  • With virtual fundraisers, Biden's top surrogates can ask for money during several events a day.
  • Buttigieg's money making prowess and ability to relate to voters has even prompted speculation that the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is in the running for an administration post should Biden win the presidency.
  • The demand for unity has never been about Democrats being in love with Biden's candidacy or his proposals. It's always been about the threat of a second Trump term, a Bernie Sanders aide said.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Joe Biden is increasingly leaning on his former Democratic primary rivals to build a powerful coalition that is raising millions of dollars to help him win the White House, brainstorm policy ideas and to amplify his campaign's Donald Trump-can't-win message. 

It's a strategy that all seven Democratic insiders interviewed for this article say is an obvious one. After all, the 77-year old Biden doesn't just need to win over votes from independents and Republicans repulsed by the notion of another four years of a Trump administration.

The former vice president also needs to sell himself to the 16.6 million people — many of them young progressives — who voted earlier this year for one of nine other Democratic candidates whom they'd rather see living in the White House come January 2021. 

That means letting Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar target moderate Democrats in battleground states. And it means recognizing that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders should be left to do what they do best by advocating for the issues they care about. 

It also makes sense from a practical standpoint during a deadly global pandemic for Biden to lean on the people he beat en route to winning the presidential nomination. With virtual fundraisers, his top surrogates can ask for money during several events a day. There's also no need for travel bookers, or extra staff to check staff in.

Klobuchar, for example, can sit on her couch back in Minnesota and conduct five events in a row.

"All of the top folks that would come to mind have been some of our most active, easy surrogates to schedule and also obviously are the ones that folks want to utilize," said Melissa Piccoli, a Biden campaign deputy who oversees surrogate deployment across the US.

Mayor Pete has raised nearly $10 million for the Biden campaign

Buttigieg became one of Biden's earliest rival-turn-surrogates back in March. And he's now among the Democratic presidential candidate's top fundraisers. 

The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has raised more than $9.8 million for the Biden campaign, including $2 million alone in a virtual fundraiser he helped headline with Cher on Monday, according to a Buttigieg aide. (The Biden campaign did not directly disclose its fundraising numbers among former presidential primary candidates.) 

Buttigieg has also headlined and participated in more than a dozen campaign finance events, sent out fundraising emails to the Democratic nominee's supporters, and he has conducted at least 15 local interviews talking up Biden with TV stations in battleground states including Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Colorado. A Facebook video Buttigieg filmed for Biden has raised at least $200,000, a Buttigieg aide said. 

The Biden campaign saw Buttigieg's strengths early on — he's an effective communicator, a team player, and a Democrat who fits into many molds in America. That's why they're plugging him into the Midwest and beyond to  other battleground states.

Buttigieg's money making prowess and ability to relate to voters has also prompted speculation that he is in the running for an administration post should Biden win the presidency. Buttigieg staffers declined comment on his future plans, at least for now. 

"He speaks to a wide range of people. He speaks to the military and veteran or the veterans military families community. He speaks to the LGBTQ community. He speaks to young people. He speaks to older people. He speaks to rural Americans," Adrienne Elrod, Biden's director for surrogate strategy and operations, told Insider in a telephone interview. 

"So he is just one of those people who you can put him in front of almost any audience and he will connect with them based on part of his background and he's also, you know, he's a great speaker and he is willing and able to do anything to make sure the Biden-Harris ticket wins in November," Elrod added. "So he has been extremely helpful."

At an Aug. 31 virtual fundraiser with Buttigieg and music legend Cher, Biden cited Buttigieg's "enormous integrity," and "physical courage as a naval officer and moral courage as a leader, according to a pool report. 

Buttigieg in turn said Biden and Kamala Harris, another former 2020 White House candidate who has since joined the national ticket as the vice presidential nominee, had "the right combination of intellect and integrity and empathy and compassion to lead us forward."

Just days earlier at a virtual fundraiser hosted by Dr. Jill Biden and emceed by Bryan Rafanelli, a Massachusetts donor who backed Buttigieg in the primary, Jill Biden was asked what role Buttigieg could serve in a Biden administration, according to another pool report. 

"What do you want Pete to do?" Jill Biden asked.

"I think I'd love for him to be UN ambassador," Rafanelli replied, noting that Buttigieg speaks multiple languages, the report said. "Secretary of State? But that might be shooting a little high. Anyway, I think he'd be amazing."

An aide to Bernie Sanders told Insider the Vermont senator would continue speaking up on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's economic plans.AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Warren & Bernie for Biden

Elizabeth Warren swore off large contributions in her own presidential primary run. But the Massachusetts senator isn't making the same pledge against Republicans in the general election.

So far, Warren has brought in nearly $8 million for Biden, according to a source familiar with Warren's role in the Democratic presidential campaign. The senator has sent fundraising emails and text messages through her own lists of supporters built during the 2020 primaries, the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Biden has also sent emails to her list. 

Warren has conducted events with the Biden campaign to engage grassroots supporters and voters. And she's also participated in a unity event, volunteer and grassroots action online rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts on social media — as well as interviews to talk about Biden's economic plan — "Build Back Better." And the campaign also is tapping into her expertise as a former educator at events for teachers. 

The economic agenda is one Warren can relate to because she had called for "economic justice" during her own unsuccessful presidential run.

"To make real progress towards social, racial, and economic justice, we have to win big in November," Warren wrote in a Biden fundraising email on Aug. 19. "And we can only do that if we work — and persist — together."

There are obvious divisions between Biden and the former progressive candidates he defeated to secure the presidential nomination that he's coveted since the late 1980s. But Warren and Sanders are working to unite Democrats in order to oust Trump. They may not get all of their priorities in a Biden administration, but to them, things will be far worse for their agenda if Trump wins four more years. 

On Saturday, Sanders participated in an online campaign event from Vermont where he said Trump has betrayed American workers — while telling his supporters that a Biden-led US economy will raise wages and create good paying jobs. He also said he expected Biden to address other major crises like climate change. 

According to a Sanders aide, the Vermont senator will continue his messaging about Biden's economic plan in the final weeks of the campaign, as well as responding to attacks from the Trump administration. And while pulling for Biden, Sanders has made it clear in interviews that he's not on board with all of Biden's policy proposals.

But there's an understanding that firing up Sanders supporters is going to bring new energy to the Biden campaign, the Sanders aide said. Sanders knows who he is, and he knows the issues he cares about — and the Biden campaign understands that, the aide said.

Just like the other Democratic surrogates, Sanders is conducting his events virtually. That's a bummer for Biden since Sanders is known for the electricity he brings to in-person events, as well as his natural knack for drawing  throngs of supporters. For now, though, there are no immediate plans for Sanders to do any in-person stumping with Biden as the presidential campaign monitors the COVID-19 numbers closely. 

Biden's campaign declined comment when asked whether any of their surrogates would be appearing in-person with the party's presidential nominee in the final weeks of the 2020 campaign. 

'All those folks are unified behind the ticket'

Biden's surrogate operation leaders told Insider the former presidential primary candidates are ready to fight together against Trump.

"All those folks are unified behind the ticket, including Bernie Sanders who frankly is one of our most active surrogates," said Elrod, who also worked with Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. 

The goal for Democrats in the final months of a presidential campaign is all about unity. But it doesn't always work. Clinton in 2016 had the clock running against her because Sanders didn't concede the nomination race until July. Only then did he back the Clinton campaign as it focused on Trump for the general election. 

This time, the Biden camp has the calendar on its side, which means more time for virtual stumping and the public release of "unity" task forces that focused on many of the policy issues each candidate elevated during the 2020 primaries. 

According to a Sanders aide, there's an appreciation in 2020 for Biden to keep a direct line open to the Democratic progressive wing. The demand for unity has never been around being in love with the nominee's proposals. It's always been about the threat of another Trump term, the aide said. 

Where's Julian Castro? 

Biden's surrogate team extends to many of the other big names that shared the debate stage and primary ballot with the party's eventual 2020 nominee.

The Democratic presidential campaign called New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker a "total utility player." It has tapped Julian Castro for a housing event, and the former Obama-era secretary from the Department of Housing and Urban Development in television interviews has also called Biden a man of character and the right person to handle the country during a devastating pandemic. 

But Castro, the only Latino to run for president in the primary, also endorsed Warren after dropping out of the 2020 race. His absence at the Democratic National Convention was noticeable.

Former Mayor Mike Bloomberg — who had a big chunk of speaking time at the Democratic convention — has helped bring out support among big city mayors, the Biden campaign said. The billionaire media mogul also transferred $18 million to the Democratic National Committee from his former presidential committee in March. Former candidates Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang have also participated in numerous campaign events to help bolster Biden.

One missing voice from the 2020 Democratic primaries is Marianne Williamson. Campaign officials said there are no plans for the bestselling book author and Oprah Winfrey confidante to stump for Biden.

 

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