Yet Biden is surrounded by advisers he has known for decades and trusts unconditionally. In some cases, they are family members. In others, they are family in all but name. Some helped guide Biden’s political rise even before Chávez Rodríguez, 45, was born. Others stuck with him through illness, personal tragedy and two losing presidential bids. They will see and speak with him in the Oval Office as Chávez Rodríguez deploys staff and pores over budgets at campaign headquarters 120 miles away.
All of those dynamics have raised doubts that Chávez Rodríguez will simply be a figurehead, carrying out the priorities and enforcing the directives of central loyalists, particularly White House advisers Anita Dunn, Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon; former White House chief of staff Ron Klain, and the person who ran Biden’s only successful presidential campaign thus far, White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon. (Dillon was her second campaign manager after the first was replaced when Biden moved from the primary to the general election campaign against Donald Trump.)
“No one in Democratic politics believes that she is in charge. And that’s the problem,» said a Democratic strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak freely about the campaign. The strategist added that a state party official recently confided to him: “’Why the hell would I call her [Chávez Rodríguez]. I’m going to call Anita.’”
Another Democratic strategist, who also spoke anonymously to offer candid assessments, said that while Chávez Rodríguez is smart and capable, the new role amounts to a «mass test.»
«Campaigns come and go,» said this strategist. «When they go down, they’re going to have to make a trade. That often means deeply misleading the campaign manager.»
‘She comes from the community’
Chávez Rodríguez was among White House and party officials who spoke to a group of Biden fundraisers at an event last weekend at a Washington, DC hotel. One guest said that her speech was primarily an introduction that laid out her experience and background on her for those in the audience who did not know who she was.
“None of us have interacted with her or know her,” this person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a private event.
Presidential contests are littered with examples of candidates removing campaign managers or «placing» them with people abruptly brought in to correct perceived weaknesses. The staff is expendable; the candidate is not. Chávez Rodríguez is the second Latina to lead a major presidential campaign. The first, Patti Solis Doyle, ran Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and was replaced after her rival Barack Obama scored a string of Democratic primary victories en route to victory.
Chávez Rodríguez’s friends and allies do not want her to suffer the same fate if the campaign fails. Those close to Biden insist that will not happen. They said she has earned Biden’s trust and she is respected by the same top level of advisers who listen to the president.
A speaker at last weekend’s event described her to the audience as the pick not only of the president but also of Jill Biden, an incomparable ally of the East Wing.
After being named White House chief of staff, Klain said the second person he hired was Chávez Rodríguez, who was impressed by his work and «no drama» personality during the 2020 campaign. (The first hire was O’ Malley Dillon said).
Chávez Rodríguez has “built a working relationship with each of the high-level people around the president who have worked with her every day for the last two years,” Klain said in an interview. Noting that she participated in the daily senior staff meeting at 7:20 am, she said that she “knows the other people who work closely with the president. She has good personal relations with them. She has played a key role in helping us achieve the President’s successes and understands how they fit into the campaign and what they are about.»
Inside the White House, Chávez Rodríguez has been a low-profile figure who keeps studiously low-key. A few days before his appointment was made public, his father, Arturo Rodríguez, was visiting the town. At no time did his daughter tell him that she could be chosen as Biden’s campaign manager.
“She never let us know about any of this,” said Arturo Rodríguez, former president of the United Farm Workers union and son-in-law of César Chávez. “We were having a great time talking and sharing, but she was always walking away and talking on the phone.”
The White House did not make Chávez Rodríguez available for comment. She is scheduled to start her new job the week of May 15. A White House press spokesman, Andrew Bates, said: «The president and campaign staff will run the campaign, while White House staff will have the typical limited engagement required by law, consistent with past administrations. ”.
Few can argue that Chávez Rodríguez fills an immediate and obvious void. Biden’s inner circle is a monochrome operation: white and mostly over 60. Installing Chávez Rodríguez as campaign manager is, at the most basic level, a symbolic gesture for a rapidly growing Latino population that Democrats need to mobilize, Biden allies said. They have work to do on this front.
The number of Latinos eligible to vote in 2024 is likely to reach 37 million, 4 million more than in 2020, said Mark Hugo López, director of research on race and ethnicity at the Pew Research Center. That number translates to 15% of all eligible voters, up almost 3 points from four years ago.
Trump made substantial inroads with Latino voters in his losing presidential bid. won 38% of the Latino vote in 2020: 10 points more than in the 2016 elections, López said.
Perhaps most worrisome for Democrats is that a good chunk of Latino voters don’t believe the party cares much about them. A Pew poll last year found that 34% did not believe the statement that the Democratic Party “really cares about Latinos” accurately describes his views.
One of Chávez Rodríguez’s jobs will be to reach out to the fringe of young Latino voters for the first time, register them, and persuade them that Biden is the best option.
“The good news about Julie, for us in the Latino and activist space, is that she comes from our community,” said Chuck Rocha, a political consultant and strategist for the Texas Democratic Party. “That doesn’t mean Julie is a savior. But we’d rather have one of our own make the overall campaign decisions than someone who isn’t from our community and can’t be identified.
“What this does, with Julie, is it breaks down the barriers so that now it’s easier to hire that Latina or Latino, black woman or black man, someone who isn’t a white woman or man,” Rocha said, “who normally runs these races.”
‘She Won’t Roll Up’
Chávez Rodríguez comes to office immersed in the overlapping worlds of organized labor, Democratic politics, and Latino politics.
Growing up in a family of activists, she was on picket lines as a child and was arrested at age 9 for participating in a protest.
She was close to her grandfather, whom she called «Tata,” a common Spanish term of endearment for a grandfather. In 1988, César Chávez embarked on a five weeks quick to protest the use of pesticides on table grapes. Chávez Rodríguez, then 10 years old, went to a supermarket in Fresno, California, with other volunteers to hand out flyers about the protest. A woman told him, «I hope he dies this time,» his father recalled.
Returning home upset, she talked to her grandfather about what had happened. “The next time someone says that, say you are in our prayers and leave it at that,” Chávez told him, Arturo Rodríguez said.
He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and after a stint at the foundation named after his grandfather, he began working for the Obama administration. In the White House Office of Public Engagement, she was at times a sounding board for aggrieved voters seeking to vent. She told NBC News in 2015 that her work allowed her to «see the commonalities between these groups and understand the uniqueness of these coalitions as well.»
Janet Murguia, president of UnidosUS, a Latino advocacy group, recalls speaking with her about the high volume of deportations carried out by the Obama administration, which led immigration advocates to label Obama a «deporter in boss».
“He is certainly someone who can understand that there was a lot of pain and suffering in our community during the height of the deportations that occurred during the Obama administration and he was trying to reconcile the different viewpoints there,” Murguia said.
But she is not an easy prey. Defenders say that she defends the boss. Earlier this year, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, spoke with Chávez Rodríguez at a reception and expressed concern about the president’s new policy restricting the ability of migrants to seek asylum in the US. USA
“I was strong and said, ‘Listen, it’s not right what the president is doing with this policy,’” Henry recalled. “And he raised his hand and said, ‘Wait, Mary Kay. Take a breather here and let me explain why I think what we’re doing is about as measured as it gets right now. ”
“She won’t be filmed,” Henry said.
A presidential campaign is a place where people can and often do get going. When poll numbers plummet or fundraising is delayed, the candidate faces pressure to blame and shake up staff. Biden’s lifelong confidants are untouchable; they are forever part of his world. Chávez Rodríguez is a different case. But he has one enduring advantage: the «brotherhood» of Democratic strategists and operatives who have strong ties to the White House and are determined to see it succeed.
«It would send a terrible message if the second Latina to serve as campaign manager didn’t have full authority right now,» said one Democratic strategist, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak more freely. «The assumption has to be that she has the full faith and trust of the president.»
Solis Doyle, Clinton’s former campaign manager, offered a bit of advice:
«Julie’s career and experience with the candidate and the people around him will help her immensely,» he said. «But she has to keep her head in the game and not get distracted by the last person who was in the room with the president or vice president.»