May 11, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Inside Biden's push to squeeze Trump in red counties

Choropleth map of the 2020 presidential election vote margin in Wisconsin, with symbols showing the counties where Biden has field offices in 2024. 14 out of Biden's 46 field offices are in counties that he won in 2020 while 32 are in counties that Trump won. There are two offices each in Dane and Walworth Counties and three offices in Milwaukee County.
Data: Biden campaign, Wisconsin Elections Commission; Map: Axios Visuals

President Biden's campaign is investing in dozens of field offices in some of the nation's reddest counties, pressing its early money advantage to establish political beachheads in hostile territory.

Why it matters: Biden's team isn't under the illusion it can win these rural counties Donald Trump won in 2020. It's fighting to cut into Republicans' margins — particularly in swing states such as Wisconsin.

  • The goal is to establish a ground presence early in the election cycle and keep rural Biden supporters motivated — while letting voters dismayed by Trump or curious about Biden know they're not be alone.

Zoom in: Biden's campaign has opened more than 150 offices and hired more than 400 staffers in the seven battleground states and will have 200 offices and 500 staffers there by the end of May, the campaign says.

  • In Wisconsin, Biden now has 46 offices across 42 counties, including 23 where Trump won by double digits in 2020.
  • Biden's strategy still calls for a heavy presence in Wisconsin's Democrat-heavy population centers, with three field offices in Milwaukee County, the most populous in the state.
  • But the president's team also has offices in places like Rusk County, home to about 14,000 people. Trump trounced Biden by 35% there four years ago, receiving 2,740 more votes.
  • That's the kind of rural-county margin Biden is hoping to reduce at a time when polls have suggested that voter enthusiasm within Biden's base isn't as energized as it was in 2020, when he won Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes.

What they're saying: "The name of the game is to lose by less" in red counties, Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler told Axios.

  • "You lose a place by 25 instead of by 35, that can be really vital" in a close battle to win the overall vote in a state, said Dan Kanninen, the Biden campaign's battleground states director.
  • "If you're not cutting margins and competing in a bunch of other places that you might not normally win, it's death by a thousand cuts," said Kanninen, referring to the 2016 election when Trump banked thousands of votes in smaller, more rural counties to offset Hillary Clinton's urban advantage.

Zoom out: Democrats are determined not to avoid a repeat of the rural turnout surprise of 2016.

Four years ago, Democrats went light on door-knocking and in-person contact, mindful of COVID protocols. Biden spent most of the campaign at home, leasing a plane late in the cycle.

  • This year, Biden's relying more heavily on a ground game, telling volunteers in Nevada last month: "It's all blocking and tackling and making the case face-to-face with voters."
  • Biden was in Wisconsin's Racine County on Wednesday to tout a $3.3 billion investment by Microsoft on the same site where Trump planned for a Foxconn facility that never materialized.

The other side: Trump's team is behind in organizing state staffs, in part because his takeover of the Republican National Committee involved ousting many RNC staffers.

  • As Axios has reported, Trump's team has rehired many of the 60 RNC staffers who were fired when Trump took control in March.
  • "We have paid staffers and volunteer-powered field programs in every battleground state, including Wisconsin, and they are expanding daily," said Karoline Leavitt, national press secretary for the Trump campaign.
  • "Our aggressive and experienced operation is focused on turning out votes and highlighting the contrast between Joe Biden's weakness and failures with President Trump's record of success."
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