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For Biden 2024, in-person campaigning is back in a big way

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden's reelection campaign is ramping up. Its hiring staff in key states, recruiting volunteers and starting to have conversations with voters. It's a rematch of the 2020 campaign, but it isn't a replay. NPR senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Sarah Harrison is bundled against the wind and knocking on doors in Waukesha County, Wis.

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(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

KEITH: It's a county that votes Republican but has enough Democrats that it could tip Wisconsin to Biden again this November. She's working through a list of 36 likely Democratic voters at 29 addresses in a suburban neighborhood with trim houses.

SARAH HARRISON: So I'm looking for either Kelly or Karen. Would you be one of those people?

KAREN: I'm Karen.

HARRISON: Hi, Karen. Nice to meet you.

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KEITH: At this point in 2020, everything was shutting down because of COVID, including the campaign. After a brief pause, Republicans resumed knocking on doors. But Democrats kept their social distance for the duration. For Biden 2024, in-person campaigning is back in a big way. Harrison, who plans to run for office herself this fall, starts her pitch talking about local school board races before turning to the top of the ticket.

HARRISON: As we're going toward the November election. Are you planning to support our president, Joe Biden, in that election?

KAREN: Yep.

HARRISON: Fantastic. I love it.

KEITH: Harrison's volunteer shift was part of what the Biden campaign has dubbed a month of action, turning focus to the general election and mobilizing volunteers in key states after what some Democrats worried was a slow start. The campaign has opened nearly a hundred field offices, including the Wisconsin campaign headquarters the president himself recently visited.

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(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You know, a thing about this campaign, and particularly here in Milwaukee specifically, but Wisconsin generally and several other states - it's going to get down to knocking on doors the old-fashioned way.

KEITH: But there's a new layer. Volunteers like Harrison are also starting to use an app called Reach. It matches up the contacts in her phone with data about voting history and provides a stream of suggested messages to send to friends and family.

HARRISON: It allows you to send the message that is most relevant to those folks that you know and for them to get it from someone that they trust and that they know personally.

KEITH: The Biden campaign is hoping the app will help them solve a problem that is vexing campaigns. Voters are on their phones. They're streaming, deep in social media information silos and actively avoiding political ads and news. Rob Flaherty is deputy campaign manager for Biden's reelection.

ROB FLAHERTY: This needs to be part of the arsenal in reaching voters who are hard to reach.

KEITH: But an app can't replace an army of on-the-ground volunteers, an army the Biden campaign is very much still working to build. The Trump campaign didn't respond to questions about its 2024 strategy to turn out voters, but the former president has no shortage of enthusiastic supporters.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Tamara Keith
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. In that time, she has chronicled the final years of the Obama administration, covered Hillary Clinton's failed bid for president from start to finish and thrown herself into documenting the Trump administration, from policy made by tweet to the president's COVID diagnosis and the insurrection. In the final year of the Trump administration and the first year of the Biden administration, she focused her reporting on the White House response to the COVID-19 pandemic, breaking news about global vaccine sharing and plans for distribution of vaccines to children under 12.