Biden campaign adds staff in traditionally blue states, while eyeing expanded battleground map

The campaign announced new state leadership teams in Maine and Minnesota Monday.

July 13, 2020, 5:31 AM

With the Democratic National Convention just over a month away, former Vice President Joe Biden's campaign is continuing to roll out state leadership teams, revealing a battleground map that both defends traditional blue states and expands into territory that's looking increasingly friendly to the Democratic cause in November.

The latest states where leadership teams have been announced, Maine and Minnesota, join Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Wisconsin, Iowa and Pennsylvania as key battlegrounds the Biden campaign sees as playing a role in their path to 270 electoral votes.

The new stable of hires comes as the Biden campaign balances the challenge of both expanding their operations in traditionally Republican-won states like Texas and Arizona, where recent public polling shows them within striking distance of President Donald Trump, while bolstering their teams in typical Democratic strongholds where Hillary Clinton drastically underperformed in the 2016 election.

"I think it's exciting," Jenn Ridder, Biden's national director of states, told ABC News regarding Biden's polling numbers in normally-red battleground states. "But I think we know that we can't take anything for granted or any state for granted. So that's why we're putting robust teams in places like Minnesota and places that have traditionally gone blue as well as new places to expand the map."

In Minnesota, a state that Clinton won by just under two points in 2016 and is seen as a rare opportunity for President Trump to go on offense in 2020, the Biden campaign has hired a trio of operatives to oversee its efforts to keep the state blue, including two former staffers of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's presidential bid.

Ryan Doyle, a veteran of Warren's campaign who managed former Rep. Keith Ellison's successful campaign for state attorney general in 2018, will serve as the Biden campaign's Minnesota state director. Misha Battiste, who served as Warren's national deputy director of surrogates and previously worked on Sen. Tina Smith's campaign in 2018 and on the Clinton campaign in 2016, will be the Biden team's coalitions director in Minnesota.

Corey Day, the longtime executive director of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party who was hired as a senior adviser in the state during the lead-up to its March primary, will stay on in the role for the general election.

In Maine, which in 2016 saw a Republican presidential candidate score an electoral vote for the first time since George H.W. Bush in 1988, the Biden campaign brought on two senior staffers to helm its operations.

James Stretch, who in his role with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) in 2018 helped flip the last remaining GOP-held congressional seat in New England blue, will serve as the Biden campaign's state director in Maine, while Spencer Thibodeau, a Portland City Councilor, comes on board as a senior adviser.

Campaign officials say the outcome of the 2016 election is an all-too-fresh reminder of what can happen if enough attention is not paid to make-or-break areas like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- all states that the Clinton campaign was accused of taking for granted in the last election in favor of attempts to expand their electoral map.

Despite the outcome of 2016, Ridder says that the campaign is not placing a higher importance on offense or defense, as a wave of positive polling for Biden and unity within the Democratic party has helped energize the campaign with less than four months to go.

"I would say as the states director I don't really prioritize one or another. I think we are really seeing this holistically. We're both taking care of business but also expanding the map, and being competitive where we can," Ridder said.

The campaign declined to provide the total number of organizers on staff, but noted that more than 700 state organizers recently joined a call to hone their message around Biden's newly announced "Build Back Better" economic plan to help restore and grow the economy as the coronavirus pandemic continues. The plan also seeks to draw a contrast with Trump on Trump's signature issue -- one on which polling shows voters still prefer him to Biden.

But even as it gears up for the general election, the campaign continues to largely operate remotely. The former vice president has kept his in-person campaigning confined mostly to the battleground state of Pennsylvania, and staffers continue to work from afar.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden thrusts his fist while answering questions from reporters during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, June 30, 2020.
Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden thrusts his fist while answering questions from reporters during a campaign event in Wilmington, Delaware, June 30, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters, FILE

Keeping their organizing operation digital stands in contrast to the Trump campaign, which resumed in-person field operations in some states in early June -- and prevents the type of physical contact with voters that usually defines the run-up to the general election. But Biden campaign officials say their more cautious approach is reflective of the American public's stance on what steps need to be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19.

"I think the public wants to see leadership right now, which we are doing by taking the responsible approach that keeps people safe. That's what people want to see right now, as opposed to the approach to the Trump campaign is taking," T.J. Ducklo, national press secretary for the Biden campaign, told ABC News.

The virtual-first campaigning has placed an even higher importance on state teams as the face of the campaign, especially as COVID-19 had kept their candidate from the critical states, campaign officials say.

Still, the campaign faces the difficult task of competing with a well-funded Trump reelection effort that has more than 1,500 field staffers in 23 target states, including state directors in each, according to a Republican official.

Overall, the Biden campaign is prioritizing flexibility amid a political landscape that, in the time since the former vice president began to pull away from the Democratic primary field in early March, has been fundamentally reshaped by a global pandemic and a national reckoning on race relations.

"Four months ago we didn't know just how much the coronavirus would impact the campaign," Ridder said. "So things change fast in this world and our goal is to be prepared."