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Biden campaign ramps up efforts to flip moderate Republicans in 2024

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The effort by President Biden's campaign to target both supporters of former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley and moderate Republicans in general is ramping up. 

The Biden-Harris campaign announced Thursday the hire of Austin Weatherford — longtime chief of staff to former Rep. Adam Kinzinger — as a "national Republican engagement director," a Biden campaign official told CBS News. 

Weatherford will lead outreach efforts to "independents and moderate Republicans who know what a danger Donald Trump is to the country if reelected for a second term," according to the official.

Moderate Republicans, specifically those who supported Haley's GOP presidential run, have been targeted by the Biden campaign since she dropped out of the primary race in March.

Even after leaving the race, Haley has still garnered a significant portion of primary votes in battleground states. In some of those states, they outnumber the 2020 margin between Mr. Biden and former President Donald Trump. In Pennsylvania, for example, Haley received 16% of the vote in the GOP primary in April, or just over 158,000 votes. Biden won the commonwealth by more than 80,000 votes in 2020. 

Last week, Biden campaign aides held a Zoom call with two dozen former GOP members of Congress, according to a source familiar with the meeting. News of the Zoom call and Weatherford's hiring was first reported by CNN

The Haley Voters Working Group — an anti-Trump group of Haley supporters and volunteers who either support Mr. Biden or are undecided — are also hiring more staff across battleground states. The group has been in touch with the Biden campaign in recent months, and arranged a virtual meeting with the Biden campaign in the evening after Haley announced May 22 she would be voting for Trump.

The group's new director will be Craig Snyder, a chief of staff to former Sen. Arlen Specter, and a 30-year veteran of national GOP political consulting. Emily Mathews, another Kinzinger aide, was also hired to join the group's leadership. 

Kinzinger himself told CBS News back in December 2023 he'd back Mr. Biden in November if Mr. Trump was the nominee. 

Robert Schwartz, president of the Haley Voters Working Group, noted their coalition is supportive of Mr. Biden's recent executive order on immigration, the president's authorization giving Ukraine limited approval to use U.S. weapons to strike inside Russia, and his speech Thursday in Normandy on the 80th anniversary of D-Day that reaffirmed U.S. support to its allies. 

"These actions show Biden is governing for all Americans as opposed to catering  to the left wing of the Democratic Party," Schwartz said. "While Biden has been doing all of that, you know, the news on Trump is all about his personal vendettas."

Schwartz added that while there are significant differences in policy views among Biden and Haley supporters, such as on his level of support for Israel, his group will work to court the over one million Haley voters across the swing states. 

The Biden campaign's efforts to reach these voters began in early March when the president said "there is a place" for Haley supporters in his campaign after she left the primary race. The campaign has also since run ads with digital montages of Trump criticizing Haley. Going forward, the Biden campaign plans to appeal to these voters' concerns about possible threats to democracy and the Constitution under a second Trump term. 

As the election nears, the Biden campaign also plans to build up an outreach program specifically geared towards Republicans. But the campaign says discussions with voters on the ground will be led by Republicans who already support Mr. Biden, in an attempt to establish more authentic conversations. 

Former Republican Rep. Denver Riggleman of Virginia cast some doubt on whether the Biden campaign's efforts to court disenchanted Republican voters will eventually work. "They need hard hitters," he said.

"Who else is there? What actual person who wants to win a GOP office would step up?" he added, referencing potential blowback Republican candidates and lawmakers could get from Trump and his supporters if they publicly back Mr. Biden. 

The Biden campaign says that while they're in touch with possible Republican endorsers, they are keeping their powder dry and won't announce them until closer to November. They are looking at a similar timeline to 2020, when notable GOP endorsements were unveiled after the Democratic National Convention and closer to the election in order to maximize the impact when more voters are tuned in. 

Despite saying in late May she would vote for Trump, Haley implored the presumptive GOP nominee to "earn the votes of those in our party and beyond it who did not support him." 

Trump was highly critical of Haley during a testy GOP primary between the two, and said in January his campaign "will not accept" her supporters. However, following a rally in the Bronx last month, Trump softened his stance, saying that "I'm sure she's going to be on our team in some form."

In a Tuesday interview with NewsMax, however, Trump voiced disappointment with Haley "because she stayed [in the primary race] too long."

"Remember, I beat her in her own state [primary]. I beat her very badly everywhere," he said, adding that "some people would be very disappointed" if he chose her as his running mate, but that "some people would be fine" with it. 

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