President Biden has formally moved from a campaign-in-waiting to a campaign of waiting.
Despite his heavily anticipated re-election announcement on Tuesday, Mr. Biden has no immediate plans to barnstorm the key battlegrounds. Decorative bunting is nowhere to be found, and large rallies will come later.
Instead, Mr. Biden’s next steps look much like his recent ones: leveraging the White House to burnish his record with ribbon-cuttings, and willingly ceding the stage to a Republican presidential primary that is already descending into a dogfight between Donald J. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, even before he has entered the race.
The first 24 hours, a heavily scripted period in any campaign, serve as a Biden road map for the months to come: a video announcement and an array of text messages to spur online donations; the behind-the-scenes hiring of his campaign team; an official White House event that doubled as a campaign opportunity; and a rally focused on abortion rights, headlined by the vice president, at a historically Black university.
“This is not a time to be complacent,” Mr. Biden says in the video, which spends more time warning of threats posed by Republicans — to abortion rights, entitlement programs and democracy — than articulating a policy vision for a second term.
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who worked on Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign, said the two public appearances on Tuesday by the president and vice president — at a labor union conference talking about his economic agenda for the middle class and at the abortion-rights rally — captured “two pillars of the campaign” to come.
At the same time, she predicted little public campaigning anytime soon for the 80-year-old president.
“It’s about getting staff, it’s about raising money, it’s about stopping the ridiculous questions of if he’s running,” Ms. Lake said. “That is the antidote to whether he has the energy to run, to questions about his age.”
Biden advisers say his entry was driven more by the internal demands of constructing a presidential campaign rather than the external need to communicate with voters, which he can do from the White House, though his team has begun producing potential advertisements. The Democratic National Committee has bought advertising time beginning Wednesday on MSNBC and on local stations in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to AdImpact, a media tracking service.
On Tuesday, Mr. Biden announced a campaign manager and her principal deputy, along with seven national co-chairs. It is no accident that instead of immediately traveling to a battleground state, Mr. Biden will huddle with some of his biggest donors on Friday in the capital.
At moments, the campaign rollout had the feel of a nostalgia tour, like an old band trying to recapture the magic of the past. The announcement was timed to the exact day of Mr. Biden’s kickoff four years earlier. His first speech, then and now, was to a labor union. And then as now, Jill Biden, the first lady, snapped a photo in front of the same building at the Northern Virginia Community College where she teaches English.
The 2024 presidential race is expected to revolve around about half a dozen highly competitive states.
The epicenter will be the two Sun Belt states, Georgia and Arizona, that Mr. Biden in 2020 put into the Democratic column for the first time since the 1990s, as well as the three industrial states touching the Great Lakes that are perennial battlegrounds: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Nevada and North Carolina, which has been just out of Democrats’ grasp in recent years, are expected to have heavy spending, as well.
Mr. Biden held a video call on Tuesday with roughly a dozen Democratic governors to discuss messaging in battleground states and carrying out the administration’s agenda, according to a person with direct knowledge of the call. The call included, among others, the governors of Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
In Mr. Biden’s labor conference speech, he delivered a lengthy recitation of the policy achievements of his first two years in office, and was briefly interrupted with the “four more years” chant familiar to every presidential re-election campaign. He spoke of signing trillions in stimulus and infrastructure spending and, as in his announcement video, warned of “MAGA” Republicans who he said threatened to destroy the fabric of the country.
“The speaker, the former president, the MAGA extremists, they’re cut from a different cloth,” Mr. Biden said. “The threat that MAGA Republicans pose is to take us to a place we’ve never been.”
For a re-election bid, Mr. Biden’s campaign introduction presented a curiously dark vision of the country.
In his video, he said his fight in 2020 to restore the “soul of the nation” was still incomplete, and at risk. At his speech, the biggest applause lines were his vows to defend the country from various perils, not any remarks presenting an uplifting vision for the future.
“It’s been one crisis after another,” said Cristóbal Alex, who worked on Mr. Biden’s 2020 run and in his White House. “The country remains on the cliff. And the election of Donald Trump or a similar MAGA type would push the country over the brink.”
Some elements of the campaign were not completed until last weekend, and the re-election staff is still being built out. Representative Veronica Escobar, a Texas Democrat, said she had received a call from Mr. Biden on Sunday asking her to be a campaign co-chair.
“I don’t quite know exactly what’s ahead,” she said. “I’ve never done this before.”
Mr. Biden’s team is sensitive to questions about his age and the rigor of his schedule, especially after he won in 2020 while campaigning most of the year from his Delaware home because of the pandemic. The White House has compiled a chart tracking his travel so far in 2023, and it shows that his number of trips outpaced former President Barack Obama’s in the same time period in 2011.
With the widespread end of coronavirus precautions, Democrats are predicting a return to normalcy on the campaign trail. The 2020 race “will have turned out to be, I think, an atypical election,” said Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey, the chairman of the Democratic Governors Association.
But Mr. Biden’s campaign is hardly seeking to have him dominate the headlines. As he has traveled the country recently to promote his legislative accomplishments, the nation’s attention has often focused elsewhere, especially on the never-ending legal and political drama encircling his predecessor.
In January, when Mr. Biden stood beside Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the G.O.P. leader, for a ribbon-cutting on a major bridge project over the Ohio River, Republicans in Washington were engaged in a weeklong spectacle over the next House speaker.
“Frankly, the best way to run for re-election as president is to be president,” said Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a longtime Biden ally who was announced as a national campaign co-chairman.
Mr. Biden’s video and Tuesday speech seemed to goad more Republican infighting, featuring a short clip of Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis shaking hands.
“Let the other side continue to self-destruct,” said Alan Kessler, a Democratic bundler who has raised money for Mr. Biden.
Then there is the issue of abortion rights, on which Mr. Biden has his own long and complicated political history that he sought to avoid discussing in 2020. Since last summer’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, the issue has become a top Democratic motivator, powering some unexpected midterm victories and a sweeping triumph this month in a contest for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“We all know abortion is going to be — if not the top issue — one of the top issues for 2024,” said Mini Timmaraju, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which sponsored the abortion rights rally at Howard University on Tuesday night where Ms. Harris was set to be the headline speaker.
Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s former chief of staff, said the president, like other Democrats, was aware of how the Supreme Court’s abortion decision had galvanized voters in his party’s favor.
“He’s going to talk about protecting reproductive freedom, reproductive rights,” Mr. Klain said Tuesday.
Mr. Biden did not say the word “abortion” in his kickoff video, though just four seconds in, there is an image of a woman standing outside the Supreme Court holding a sign that reads, “Abortion is health care.”
The only images preceding that shot were of the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
The first word uttered by Mr. Biden captures both scenes, and is one that Democrats hope will frame the 2024 campaign: “Freedom.”
“The question we are facing,” he says in the video, “is whether in the years ahead we have more freedom or less freedom.”
Katie Glueck and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.
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