A new super PAC supporting the presidential campaign of Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) released a series of television ads Tuesday that directly challenge the electability of President Biden.
Some of the spots — which will initially run in New Hampshire and the Washington area — compare Biden’s campaign to a burning dynamite fuse overlaid on news headlines about his struggles and recent polling results showing him trailing former president Donald Trump.
The ads are the work of Pass the Torch, a new pro-Phillips group formed with the help of Steve Schmidt, who previously worked as a top adviser on the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). The group is expected to raise millions of dollars, according to a person familiar with its plans, with more than $1 million spent on the initial suite of ads.
The central message of the initial spots is that Biden is a weak candidate who cannot defeat Trump. Several spots use President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address as narration to argue that it is once again time to “pass the torch” to a new generation of leaders.
One of the spots show images of Biden looking confused at official events as Kennedy speaks about “a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle.” Phillips is portrayed, using footage from his campaign launch in New Hampshire, as the “new generation of Americans” that Kennedy called to lead the nation when he took office.
In another spot, the Kennedy speech is played over images of key moments from recent American history, including the attacks on the World Trade Center, the murder of George Floyd by police, abortion rights protests and the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan during Biden’s presidency. The ad ends with a different narrator warning about the current polling.
“The threat is real. Trump is winning,” she says. “It’s time to pass the torch.”
One person familiar with the effort said Biden is an “old man demanding more — more time, more power — when he has clearly declined to a degree where he has an incapacity to run and win the election.”
“The fundamental issue becomes Trump is the greatest threat to the American public with the possible exception of Joe Biden’s ego, which will make it possible for Donald Trump to return to power, deploy the military and lock up his political opponents,” said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private strategy.
The Biden campaign and many leading Democrats have argued that the current polling of a hypothetical matchup between Trump and Biden does not reflect what will happen next year. They note that former president Barack Obama also trailed his Republican opponents in the fall of 2011, before easily winning reelection.
Democratic pollsters say the current polls reflect an electorate that is not fully engaged, is unhappy with the candidates in both parties running for president and has not yet internalized the consequences of Trump’s reelection. They also point out that some polls at this point show other high-profile Democrats losing to Trump.
Phillips launched his bid for president last month, with a strategy hinging on a strong performance in the Jan. 23 New Hampshire primary, where Biden is not campaigning and will not appear on the ballot. Biden supporters in that state have the option of writing in his name, and the Democratic National Committee has said that it will not use the primary results to appoint convention delegates, because the state is holding its contest before party rules allow.
Author Marianne Williamson is the third major candidate running for the Democrat nomination. A September New Hampshire poll by CNN, conducted before Phillips launched his campaign, showed Biden winning the state by 69 percentage points, with Williamson winning six percent, and attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who has since abandoned a Democratic nomination bid, pulling 10 percent.
Since launching his campaign with Schmidt’s help, Phillips has hired former top advisers to other recent Democratic presidential campaigns. Jeff Weaver, an architect of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaigns, has agreed to work as a senior strategist for Phillips, while Zach Graumann, who managed entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign, has agreed to serve in a senior role, according to people briefed on the plans who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
The decision to air ads in the Washington media market, where no early-primary voters live, suggests a broader effort to challenge the dominant sense among political insiders that Biden’s nomination next year is all but inevitable.