WASHINGTON (AP) — One year out from Election Day, President Joe Biden ’s reelection campaign is outlining a plan to retain the White House by framing the 2024 race around many of the same themes it used in 2020 — presenting a contrast with Donald Trump ‘s “Make America Great Again” movement stark enough to reenergize its winning coalition of supporters.
In a strategy memo obtained by The Associated Press, Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez said her team is already looking beyond the Republican presidential primary to a general election “that will be very close.” But “the message Joe Biden ran on in 2020 remains popular with voters and central to this campaign.”
“The president and vice president have a strong message that resonates with voters, a clear contrast with whoever the MAGA Republican Party nominates,” Rodriguez wrote. “This campaign will win by doing the work and ignoring the outside chatter — just like we did in 2020.”
The memo is striking in how it reflects a president who has repeatedly asked voters to allow him to “finish the job” but is also waging a campaign that is just as focused on presenting the race as a referendum on stopping Trump. The MAGA movement is still strong despite the former president being indicted in four separate cases and facing 91 total criminal counts.
National polls indicate that, if the race were held today, a rematch between Biden and Trump would be exceedingly close. The election will occur one year from Sunday.
One issue the memo omits is voters’ concerns about the 80-year-old Biden’s age. An August AP-NORC poll found that 77% of U.S. adults — including 69% of Democrats — viewed Biden as too old to be effective for four more years
Rodriguez stresses that the administration’s calls to protect the nation’s core democratic values and abortion rights, as well as programs aiming to improve the economy to strengthen the middle class, helped Democrats defy historical odds during last year’s midterms, holding the Senate and only narrowly ceding the House majority to the GOP.
Ahead of 2024, “our early research shows the president’s message of building on our progress to finish the job remains a winning one for mobilizing our base and persuading undecided voters,” Rodriguez wrote.
The memo argues that next year’s race “will be a clear choice for the American people” and predicts voters will reject “MAGA extremism” and be swayed by the administration’s legislative accomplishments, including a massive public works law and sweeping health care and green energy package.
Polls, though, show Biden may not be getting credit for such initiatives.
Only about 4 in 10 U.S. adults approve of the president’s job performance, according to regular polling from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. And two-thirds disapprove of his handing of the economy.
An AP-NORC poll conducted in September showed that a Biden-championed policy allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices was overwhelmingly popular, with three-quarters of Americans favoring the policy change. But they were overall split on Biden’s handling of the issue of prescription drug prices.
And a June survey found that 58% of Americans disapproved of how Biden was handling abortion policy. Only about 4 in 10 approved.
The campaign began trying to reverse such perceptions in September, with a 16-week, $25 million advertising campaign targeting what Chavez called “voters across battleground states — including earlier-than-ever investments in Hispanic and African American media” and testing “the messaging contrast that will be core to this election.”
The campaign says it’s a down payment on what is expected to be a more than $1 billion effort to communicate with voters in 2024 — up from about $800 million in 2020. Much of the near-term focus has been on reinforcing Biden’s record to voters, particularly on the economy, aiming to remind them of the reeling pandemic economy he inherited in 2021 and where things are now.
“Those kinds of macroeconomic arguments are not things that you’re seeing show up in public polling, but in ad testing, it does appear that voters are open to that argument,” said Patrick Bonsignore, a Biden campaign adviser on paid media.
But even those messages are meant to draw an implicit contrast against Trump, Bonsignore said.
“There’s an inherent and baked-in contrast to whose side these people are on,” he said. “Everything that Joe Biden has done as president, and especially when you look at the economic consequences, is on the side of working families and working people. And there’s a really clear argument that Donald Trump and the GOP writ large are not on the side of working families.”
Trump, meanwhile, has built a commanding early 2024 GOP primary lead despite his legal entanglements. But even beyond him, the memo argues, “the MAGA extremism that now defines the Republican Party is a significant barrier to victory for the GOP in key battleground states.”
Biden spent months prior to the midterms warning that Trump and his movement could undermine American democracy. Rodriguez writes that 2024 could look like 2022’s midterms, when Democrats won tight Senate races in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania — all states key to winning the White House.
“Every time voters are confronted with this choice they continue to vote with Democrats,” said Biden campaign communications director Michael Tyler.
Democratic strategist Tim Hogan said the Biden campaign needs to combat “a complacency that people fall into when they feel like there’s a rematch,” Hogan said. To counter that, he said, Biden should promote his administration’s achievements while reminding voters what everyday life was like under Trump.
Setting up the contrast, he said: “It’s a stability and chaos question for voters.”
The memo says that Biden’s campaign also has focused on off-year elections happening next week in places like Virginia. From the time Biden announced his 2024 campaign in April through Sept. 1, it says, the campaign has “reengaged volunteers to make over 1.1 million calls and send nearly 4 million texts to persuade and turn out voters.”
The campaign also has begun working on minority voter outreach, launching pilot programs to expand organizing in Wisconsin college communities, Milwaukee’s Black neighborhoods and key swing areas in Phoenix — attempting to blunt GOP narratives that Democratic support among both is slipping.
Concerns about Biden’s age loom as well.
“Honestly, if it comes down to Joe Biden and Trump, I feel like Trump’s going to win,” said Lindy Pillow, a 22-year-old cashier in Phoenix who voted for Biden four years ago and has been disappointed with rising prices and thinks the president has lost a step.
“Biden’s very much losing people right now,” Pillow said.
Based in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden has a home away from the White House, the campaign is working jointly with the Democratic National Committee in Washington, which spent $95 million bolstering state parties ahead of the midterms and plans more investment this cycle. They had a joint war chest of $91 million as of Oct. 1, which Rodriguez called “the most ever for a Democratic candidate at this point in the race.”
Republican strategist Rick Tyler cautioned against reviving too many 2020 themes.
“It’d be malpractice to suggest you can win the same race in the same way you won it before,” said Tyler, who said many voters have forgotten that Trump left the White House with the pandemic raging and the economy declining. “Winning election is always about the future. It’s never about the past.”
Still, Torin Walhood, a 26-year-old airline pilot from Portland, Oregon, said he wasn’t worried about Trump reclaiming the White House.
“He already was defeated as an incumbent,” Walhood said. “I think that it depends largely on who Biden has to run against. But if it ends up being Trump again, I think it’s probably going to be a second term of Biden.”
Associated Press writers Linley Sanders in Washington and Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix contributed to this report.