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In my mind I’m going to (South) Carolina

The power players, latest policy developments, and intriguing whispers percolating inside the West Wing.
Oct 23, 2023 View in browser

By Lauren Egan, Myah Ward and Lawrence Ukenye

Welcome to POLITICO’s West Wing Playbook, your guide to the people and power centers in the Biden administration. With help from Benjamin Johansen and producer Raymond Rapada.

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Few Democrats seem excited about Rep. DEAN PHILLIPS’ anticipated presidential campaign — except for some in South Carolina.

It’s not that Democrats in the Palmetto State actually like Phillips. Few can even say which state he represents (Minnesota). It’s that they view Phillips’ anticipated candidacy as an opportunity to once again demonstrate South Carolina’s loyalty to JOE BIDEN — especially as the state tries to make the case for holding onto its first-in-the-nation primary slot for the 2028 presidential cycle.

Phillips is expected to launch his long-shot primary challenge to Biden in New Hampshire this Friday. He will be late to the game (he already missed the filing deadline for the party’s official second primary, in Nevada) and doesn’t pose a serious threat to Biden’s candidacy.

But New Hampshire’s decision to hold an unsanctioned primary ahead of South Carolina’s on Feb. 3 means that Phillips might have a small chance of beating Biden in the first presidential contest or, more likely, taking enough of the vote that he embarrasses him politically. Biden isn’t expected to officially appear on the ballot and voters would instead have to write-in his name.

If that were to happen, South Carolina would loom particularly large. Democratic Party leaders there privately say it wouldn’t be the worst thing for them, and not just because it would mean more attention and political business for the state. They’d be in a position to once again buoy Biden’s candidacy through a period of tough headlines, and it would earn the state some good will with the national party when it comes time to take another look at the nominating calendar.

“If Dean Phillips wins in New Hampshire, that’s more of an indictment on New Hampshire than it is anything else,” said BAKARI SELLERS, a former South Carolina state legislator, suggesting it would be a waste of time for Phillips to even file to get on the ballot when applications open in November. “We’ll laugh at the people who voted for Dean Phillips and then just move on to, you know, celebrating Valentine’s Day.”

South Carolina Democratic Party leaders say that they’re trying to build up momentum for what would otherwise be a sleepy incumbent primary cycle. A number of new voter engagement efforts are going to be rolled out in the coming days as the state hits the 100-day mark to its primary. On Saturday, Education Secretary MIGUEL CARDONA and California Rep. RO KHANNA will be in Charleston for a speaking event hosted by the SCDP and plans are in the works for additional speaking events with Biden surrogates on Nov. 18 in Spartanburg and Dec. 8 in Columbia.

“South Carolina has a love affair with Joe Biden,” said DICK HARPOOTLIAN, a South Carolina state senator who bundled for Biden during his 2020 run. “If we need to get some grassroots stuff going, or we need to get contributions to help the party get the word out — we will do that.”

In a statement, Biden campaign spokesperson KEVIN MUNOZ said: “As for any incumbent president, the campaign will plan to use primary contests as opportunities to mobilize and activate grassroots supporters as MAGA Republicans continue to fight each other in their primary.”

Whatever opportunity South Carolina Democrats might see for themselves in Phillips’ candidacy, they also don’t think highly of his attempt to take on Biden.

Harpootlian said Phillips had no natural voter base in the state. “I guess people who are fanatics of cheese curds?”

“But the cheese curd constituency population in South Carolina is probably two,” he said.

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PLAYBOOK IS GOING GLOBAL! We’re excited to introduce Global Playbook, POLITICO’s premier newsletter that brings you inside the most important conversations at the most influential events in the world. From the buzzy echoes emanating from the snowy peaks at the WEF in Davos to the discussions and personalities at Milken Global in Beverly Hills, to the heart of diplomacy at UNGA in New York City – author Suzanne Lynch brings it all to your fingertips. Experience the elite. Witness the influential. And never miss a global beat. BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION. SUBSCRIBE NOW.


Which president played college baseball until he broke a finger?

(Answer at bottom.)

The Oval

A HOPEFUL SIGN: Hamas released two Israeli hostages on Monday into Red Cross custody, NBC News’ RICHARD ENGEL and DANIEL ARKIN report. That good news comes as Biden stressed the need to free hostages and provide humanitarian assistance when asked whether the U.S. supports an Israel-Hamas ceasefire. "We should have those hostages released and then we can talk," Biden said after delivering remarks about ‘Bidenomics’ this afternoon.

Earlier, at Monday’s White House press briefing, National Security Council spokesperson JOHN KIRBY told reporters the White House and State Department are working "hour-by-hour" on efforts to free hostages in Hamas' custody.

A DEAD HEAT: A USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll released Monday found Biden and DONALD TRUMP tied at 37 percent of the vote, with independent candidate ROBERT F. KENNEDY siphoning votes away from the former president. Roughly a quarter of the electorate would support a bipartisan presidential ticket — an effort that may be fielded by the centrist group No Labels — but that could present a challenge for Biden as most voters in favor of a unity candidate support the president.

We present this with the usual caveats: We have 12.5 months to go before Election Day, one poll is merely a snapshot in time, time is a flat circle, we are but a grain of sand in this vast universe, and so on.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE WANTS YOU TO READ: This piece by Axios’ BEN GEMAN about the White House ramping up its push to promote private sector clean energy investments on the site. The new effort aims to tout the growth of clean energy jobs as Biden struggles to promote his economic record under his “Bidenomics” banner. White House communications director BEN LABOLT and assistant press secretary ANGELO FERNÁNDEZ HERNÁNDEZ posted the story on X.

ALSO THIS… by Wall Street Journal’s DAVID HARRISON, who notes many analysts are forecasting a positive outlook on the economy. Harrison writes that despite predictions of a recession, economic growth is accelerating, according to various analysts.

“After predicting a recession for the past year, economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal this month said they now believe the economy will avoid a downturn in the next 12 months,” Harrison writes.

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T WANT YOU TO READ: This piece by our HOLLY OTTERBEIN about how some Arab and Muslim Americans feel “betrayed” by Biden’s response to Hamas’ attacks against Israel — and may reconsider their plans to vote for him in 2024.

“While those voters make up a small portion of the electorate, they can be a key bloc in tightly contested battleground states like Michigan and Pennsylvania,” Otterbein writes. Some Biden allies have amplified those concerns, warning that rather than voting for Trump, many Muslim voters could skip voting entirely.

BUT WILL THEY SERVE (ROCK) LOBSTER? The B-52s will perform Wednesday at the White House state dinner honoring Australian Prime Minister ANTHONY ALBANESE’s visit to Washington, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s RODNEY HO reports. The eccentric Georgia-based band, known for classics like “Love Shack” and “Roam,” launched its farewell tour last year. Wednesday’s event marks the fourth state dinner Biden has hosted since taking office.

We applaud Biden for not going with the safe option here (cough: LIN MANUEL MIRANDA :cough) but if you have some insight into how the White House ended up with B-52s as the musical option, please hit us up.


FIRST IN WEST WING PLAYBOOK: RYAN HUBBARD is now special assistant to the president for economic agency personnel, our DANIEL LIPPMAN has learned. He most recently was White House liaison at NASA.

THE WARREN TAKEOVER CONTINUES: Biden has tapped JON DONENBERG to be the next deputy director of the National Economic Council, Bloomberg’s JUSTIN SINK reports. Donenberg currently serves as Sen. ELIZABETH WARREN’s (D-Mass.) chief of staff and would succeed BHARAT RAMAMURTI (another Warren alum), who left the White House in September.

MORE PERSONNEL MOVES: ROBERT SAMONTE TAGALICOD has been promoted to chief of staff to the HHS assistant secretary for administration.

— NOELLE SORICH-CARTER is now special assistant to the chief of staff of the Office of the Administrator at USAID. She most recently was special assistant to the under secretary for policy at DHS.

Agenda Setting

PLAYING IT SAFE: Three red state Senate Democrats up for reelection next year may be breaking from Biden on the hot-button issues of Iran and border security, our BURGESS EVERETT and URSULA PERANO report. Sens. JON TESTER (D-Mont.) and SHERROD BROWN (D-Ohio) have indicated they may join fellow moderate West Virginia Democrat JOE MANCHIN, and Senate Republicans in signing onto legislation to freeze $6 billion in Iranian assets. The trio also criticized Biden’s handling of the border in separate interviews.

TECH BEYOND SILICON VALLEY: The Commerce Department on Monday announced 31 regions across the country designated as technology hubs. The hubs will be focused on industries ranging from semiconductors to autonomous systems and quantum computing.

Administration officials believe the hubs could “generate economic activity outside of coastal boomtowns like San Francisco” through distributing government subsidies and private investment, Bloomberg’s MACKENZIE HAWKINS and JENNIFER JACOBS write.

What We're Reading

Developing World Sees Double Standard in West’s Actions in Gaza and Ukraine (NYT’s Neil MacFarquhar)

‘People Are Hurt and Scared’: How a Muslim American Leader in Georgia Is Confronting the War (POLITICO’s Alex Burns)

Behind the Curtain: Biden fears wider war in Middle East (Axios’ Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei)


President HERBERT HOOVER was a shortstop for Stanford University’s baseball team before dislocating his finger, which prompted him to become the team’s manager. Before the injury, Hoover grew up playing baseball as a child in Iowa and Oregon, according to the White House Historical Association.

Thanks to the Hoover Presidential Foundation for this question!

A CALL OUT! Do you think you have a harder trivia question? Send us your best one about the presidents, with a citation or sourcing, and we may feature it!

Edited by Eun Kyung Kim and Sam Stein.


JOIN 10/25 FOR A TALK ON THE FUTURE OF GRID RELIABILITY: The EPA’s proposed standards for coal and new natural gas fired power plants have implications for the future of the electric grid. These rules may lead to changes in the power generation mix—shifting to more renewable sources in favor of fossil-fuel plants. Join POLITICO on Oct. 25 for a deep-dive conversation on what it will take to ensure a reliable electric grid for the future. REGISTER NOW.


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In my mind I’m going to (South) Carolina


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