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Joe Biden’s Big 2020 Advantage: He Has the Obama Email List

It is the most coveted list in politics, but will its magic work a third time?

Gideon Resnick, Sam Stein4.24.19 9:00 PM ET

As Joe Biden gets ready to launch his third run for the presidency, he brings with him one of the most valuable pieces of infrastructure in all of politics: the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign email list.

On Tuesday, Biden’s American Possibilities PAC sent an email to supporters asking them to sign up to be the first to know what Biden had in store in the coming days. A number of recipients told The Daily Beast they hadn’t registered for updates from the PAC but had put their email addresses on the Obama list. On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Biden confirmed to The Daily Beast that American Possibilities had the list at its disposal.

That Biden would utilize the list is hardly a surprise. It is one of the largest in politics and had reportedly helped raise more than $500 million for the Obama-Biden campaign in 2012. As part of that ticket, the former VP has a claim to it, giving him access to a base of potential grassroots supporters at a time when other Democrats in the race—including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)—were building large networks of their own.

This would be a particular help to Biden, who has never been a prodigious money-raiser and  recently said that he “will not be part of a Super PAC.”

It also fit into a tactic he has deployed in the lead-up to his formal campaign announcement. More than any other Democrat in the race or thinking of entering it, Biden has aligned himself with the Obama years. He has referred to himself as an “Obama-Biden Democrat,” leaned on his two-terms as the top sidekick for the nation’s first African-American president, and used that record to gloss over prior decades of legislative history that are not quite as palatable in the modern Democratic party.

Operatives say it’s logical, since most voters recognize him best as Obama’s veep, and also strategically sound.

“It is a lane to compete for,” said Ben LaBolt, the Obama-Biden campaign press secretary in 2012. “[T]alking about expanding upon strengthening health care, making the economy work for families regardless of their income level, returning to a government of dignity and normalcy, restoring alliances abroad, that would be an attractive message for a lot of voters.”

But LaBolt and others say there’s no guarantee that Biden’s ties to Obama assure that he’ll win over that “lane” of voters nostalgic for the last administration. Harris, for starters, was an early Obama supporter. And Buttigieg has elicited comparisons to Obama for his campaigning style and was touted by the former president as a future leader of the party—a designation that, according to an Obama aide, came after the mayor partnered with the Obama administration on the My Brother’s Keeper initiative and campaigns for infrastructure investment.

Those two candidates have also attracted a number of Obama bundlers—a front on which Biden should compete as well. The ex-vice president has amassed a network of deep-pocketed supporters throughout his decades in public service and he is already leaning on them to assist with his campaign.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who is involved in an upcoming fundraiser for Biden in Philadelphia, told The Daily Beast on Wednesday that the interest in attending was so overwhelming that he fielded a call from someone complaining that they couldn’t get in.

“I’ve been raising money since 1977,” Rendell said. “And I’ve never had anybody complain about not getting an invitation to a fundraiser. That shows you the depth of enthusiasm, the depth of relationships that the vice president has built over the years.”

And on Wednesday afternoon, Biden himself jumped on a conference call with donors during which he implored them to help him post a major fundraising total during the first 24 hours of his campaign launch. One participant in the call said Biden wasn’t pretending he could surpass the hauls pulled in by Sanders and O’Rourke, but that they “needed to be respectable.”

Biden’s access to the 2012 list could help with that effort, providing him inroads to the constellation of Obama voters and small dollar donors that his competitors lack. But digital strategists have questions about how effective the list will ultimately prove to be. Though there were reportedly 13 million names on it in 2009, no one is quite sure how many remain. A source close to Biden sought to downplay the perception that it would be a massive difference-maker, since a significant number of the contacts are likely faulty or dated. And many of the people who signed on in the first place likely did so because of their affinity to Obama.

“[Having the list] is certainly helpful,” said Jen Palmieri, Obama’s former communications director. “I don’t know if it is a golden ticket.”

Though the Biden presidential campaign hasn’t formally launched, the expectation is it will acquire the list from American Possibilities by some sort of transfer or swap arrangement (an exchange of email lists). The cost, if any, will be minimal, though operating a list of that size can be pricey. According to FEC filings, American Possibilities didn’t pay for the list, meaning that it was likely transferred without cost. But it has paid significant sums—some related to the list—for email services, digital consulting and internet advertisements to the firm Blue State Digital, which worked on both Obama-Biden campaigns.

One thing is certain,Team Biden will know the true value of the campaign-me-down soon. The first test of the mega-list should come within the first 24 hours of his campaign launch, which is expected to take place on Thursday morning.

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