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Meet a former GOP staffer who is 'building permission' for Republicans to vote Biden

President Biden's campaign is ramping up efforts to reach out to Republicans who don't want to support former President Donald Trump — including supporters of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
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President Biden's campaign is ramping up efforts to reach out to Republicans who don't want to support former President Donald Trump — including supporters of former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

Updated June 06, 2024 at 13:04 PM ET

The Biden campaign, while struggling to drum up support from some of the key members of its coalition in 2020, is trying to gain votes from an entirely different group: Republicans who aren't interested in backing former President Donald Trump.

On Thursday, the campaign announced a new member of their team: Austin Weatherford, who served as former Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger's chief of staff. CNN was the first to report Weathford’s hire. Kinzinger, who retired from Congress last year, is perhaps most known for his criticism of Trump and his role on the House Jan. 6 committee investigating the insurrection at the Capitol.

Weatherford’s job, which is officially titled the National Republican Engagement Director, will involve “convincing people of the President’s character, of his accomplishments, of his bipartisan nature," he told NPR, in his first interview since joining the Biden team.

"My goal is to work very hard to convince and persuade those voters that are really smart, really intelligent, that the issues they care about are going to be solved best by President Biden," Weatherford said.

When Haley dropped out of the GOP primary in March, thousands of Republican voters still voted for her in subsequent primaries, instead of Trump. The Biden campaign is tracking that the amount of votes she received was larger than the margin of victory needed in several battleground states.

The Biden campaign was quick to release a statement when Haley ended her candidacy, telling her supporters they had a place in the Biden campaign. "I know there is a lot we won't agree on," the statement said. "I hope and believe we can find common ground."

Weatherford would not specify how large his team working to engage GOP voters will be, but said the “whole campaign” will be involved in this effort and Republican persuasion is “a priority for the campaign at the highest levels.”

“We don’t expect Republican voters to agree with this President 100% of the time. That’s normal," he said. "What I’m going be doing is building up the permission for Republican voters to vote for President Biden.”

What the outreach to GOP voters looks like

While there will be Biden campaign workers focused on organizing potential GOP voters for Biden, the campaign also wants the outreach to be grassroots-driven, allowing Republican voters to organize other Republicans in an authentic way. Part of that work means enlisting help from groups like a PAC called Haley Voters for Biden, a group of Republicans who backed Haley in the primary.

This group isn't fully sold on voting for Biden, but its members are willing to engage, said Robert Schwartz, a senior advisor to the group. And the Biden campaign is listening.

"This is a group that kind of put together a list of policy priorities and said we want to engage with the Biden campaign," Schwartz said. "Many of them are not yet convinced that they're able to vote for Biden but they think it's important the Biden campaign listen to what they care about."

Biden's team says the common ground with Republican voters who don't want to vote for Trump is their concern for democracy and Trump's attacks on the Constitution. But Schwartz said there are other politics issues that matter just as much.

Of the issues the group does have concerns about, immigration and the U.S. southern border, and support for Israel are at the top of the list, Schwartz said.

Weatherford said his work on the Biden campaign will target groups of voters including women concerned about reproductive rights, voters focused on foreign policy and those motivated by “character” concerns when it comes to Trump.

Haley's support for Trump doesn't deter them

Though Haley recently has said she would ultimately support Trump in the election, neither Schwartz nor the Biden campaign is deterred.

"Nothing has changed for the millions of Republican voters who continue to cast their ballots against Donald Trump in the primaries," Biden campaign communications director Michael Tyler said in a statement the day Haley made her announcement.

Coincidentally, hours after her announcement, the Biden team held a zoom call with about 15 Haley supporters from the PAC group.

"They wanted to work to earn the votes of Haley voters despite some policy differences," Schwartz said of the Biden campaign during the call. "The Biden campaign was kind of in listening-mode for this."

The Biden campaign says they are also doing work behind the scenes to obtain potential endorsements from key Republicans as well, but those announcements are more likely to come closer to Election Day, when voters are more tuned in.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.