Biden’s campaign seeks a show of strength in S.C. primary as new staff is announced

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s campaign announced Monday its new team in South Carolina ahead of the February presidential primary, part of a broader ramp-up as voting rapidly approaches and the incumbent faces a last-minute primary opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn.

Biden will travel on Friday to Nevada, another early Democratic primary state, for an official event. Advisers say visiting the Silver State is a priority because it is a key general election battleground state and Phillips did not file in time to appear on the primary ballot.

Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to South Carolina last month to deliver Biden’s paperwork. The visit showed the campaign is not taking these primaries for granted and sees them as valuable opportunities to test drive their organization and demonstrate support for the ticket ahead of the general election, according to three Biden advisers, granted anonymity to provide insight into the campaign’s thinking.

Democrats nervous about the president’s low approval ratings, and recent national polling showing him trailing or within the margin of error of Donald Trump in a potential rematch, have begun sounding the alarm about what they see as the lack of urgency on the part of Biden’s team. The South Carolina staff announcement represents the first state director named by Biden’s campaign. More will soon follow, according to one of the advisers, who also emphasized that long-term investments through state parties and the DNC have given them a strong footprint to build on.

Scott Harriford, who served in the Biden administration at the Small Business Administration and was the political director for Biden 2020 in South Carolina and then in the southeastern region, will serve as state director. Clay Middleton, who recently lost a bid for mayor of Charleston, will be a senior adviser along with Jalisa Washington Price and Brady Quirk-Garvan, also South Carolina natives and campaign veterans.

“Every candidate who has won the South Carolina primary in recent years has gone on to be our nominee and get the majority of the popular vote in the general election, and no one knows that better than President Biden,” Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said in a statement as part of the announcement.

South Carolina will host the first primary sanctioned by the Democratic National Committee, on Feb. 3, followed by Nevada on Feb. 6. New Hampshire’s secretary of state recently set Jan. 23 for his state’s primary, defying the party and Biden, who did not file as a candidate there.

New Hampshire Democrats are unlikely to see delegates seated at the national convention, the result of sanctions because the state didn’t move their vote after South Carolina as the national party told them to do. But Phillips has focused his primary challenge against Biden there in hopes of catapulting his argument that Democrats risk losing in the general election with the 81-year-old at the top of the ticket.

Phillips got a cold shoulder in New Hampshire over the weekend as the state party held a major fundraising dinner. The dinner’s keynote speaker, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and members of the state’s congressional delegation all urged attendees to write in Biden’s name on the ballot even as Phillips sat in the audience. 

“Like many of you, I plan to write in President Joe Biden in the New Hampshire primary to continue our progress and finish the job,” Rep. Ann McLane Kuster, D-N.H., said. “As I say to my colleagues and to the press — the good news is it’s very easy to spell.”

Speaking to reporters after the dinner, Phillips downplayed the public comments from the Democratic leaders, saying, “I know these people and what they say behind closed doors, and that’s what this is about.”

“We all know the polls. We all see the numbers. We all know the truth, and it just really inspires me to do what I’m doing right now,” he said.

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