Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), President Biden’s newest and highest-profile Democratic primary challenger, is bringing on a new senior campaign team that includes former top strategists for the presidential bids of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.
Jeff Weaver, an architect of Sanders’s presidential campaigns, has agreed to work as a senior strategist for Phillips, while Zach Graumann, who managed Yang’s 2020 campaign, has agreed to serve in a senior role, according to two people briefed on the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters that have not been announced.
Steve Schmidt — who aided Phillips’s launch and previously served as a top adviser to John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign — plans to decamp from Phillips’s orbit to form an independent super PAC, which can raise and spend money in unlimited amounts, the people said. It will focus on supporting Phillips through advertising in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan, they said.
Phillips, in an interview Wednesday, declined to comment on the specifics of the staffing changes.
“My ethos is team of rivals,” he said. “Never Trumpers, Bernie bros, moderates, independents. This is time for the most extraordinary coalition in American history to unify behind the preservation of the great American experiment.”
Phillips, 54, launched his long-shot primary campaign last month in New Hampshire, arguing Biden, 80, is too old and risks losing to former president Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination. A recent set of polls from the New York Times and Siena College across six battleground states found that 62 percent of voters believe Biden does not have the “mental sharpness” to be effective.
“It is time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of American leaders,” Phillips said in his launch.
Weaver, who built and helped run Sanders’s presidential campaigns and affiliated political organizations, said he was impressed in his meetings with Phillips, who is considered a moderate in the House caucus. Weaver said he believes Phillips could reshape the Democratic Party to be “once again the party of the little guy.”
“I am excited to be joining him. Dean Phillips is a dynamic candidate who in my meetings with him is devoted to dealing with the problems of the middle class in this country,” Weaver said. “I think you are going to be surprised at how bold his plans are to address the crises facing this country.”
Schmidt and Graumann declined requests for comment.
The Minnesota congressman has held a series of donor meetings in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, including one with Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, who expressed support for Phillips’s efforts, according to people familiar with the meetings. The meetings were first reported by Puck.
Altman has already donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Biden’s presidential campaign. A spokesperson for Altman did not respond to a request for comment.
Phillips’s strategy hinges on a strong performance in New Hampshire, hoping it will dent Biden’s argument that he is best positioned to defeat Trump. But Biden’s name, in an unusual twist, will not appear on the New Hampshire ballot because the contest is likely to take place outside the rules of the Democratic National Committee. As a result, the party has said no convention delegates will be awarded. Supporters of Biden have, nonetheless, mounted a write-in campaign.
The Biden campaign, which declined to comment for this article, has largely ignored Phillips’s candidacy, but some Democrats fear his relentless focus on Biden’s age and polling weakness could damage him in a general election. Phillips has said if he loses the primary, he would support Biden in a general election and has no interest in running as an independent or a third-party candidate.
Yang, an entrepreneur who ran a quixotic Democratic campaign for president in 2020, said he is supportive of Phillips’s campaign and shares the concern that Biden will lose in a rematch with Trump.
“Dean Phillips is what most Americans want. Most Americans want a sane, moderate, 54-year-old presidential candidate who will work to make things better,” Yang said.
He argues that a primary battle will be healthy for the party, resulting in a stronger nominee.
“You know what is going to increase the chance of Trump winning?” Yang added. “The Democrats’ complete coronation of Joe Biden.”