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Biden's reelection campaign has counterprogramming plans during the GOP debate

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Tonight at 9 o'clock Eastern, the center of the political universe could be Milwaukee for the first Republican presidential debate of this election season. Or maybe it will be the interview that former President Trump is doing with Tucker Carlson instead of that debate. Either way, it will not be Lake Tahoe where President Biden is on vacation. Still, the president's reelection campaign has its own plans to counterprogram on this debate night. And we're joined now by NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith for more. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK, so what is the Biden campaign up to tonight?

KEITH: Well, campaign staffers and the Democratic National Committee are gearing up to draw attention to the things that Republican candidates on the stage say that they believe is out of touch with the mainstream public opinion, particularly on abortion and Social Security and Medicare. And I can give you a preview of what they are likely to say because they have been saying it for days, weeks, really. Here is campaign co-chair Cedric Richmond.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CEDRIC RICHMOND: And the truth is, it doesn't matter who wins the debate. They've chosen a losing strategy, and that strategy is to be as extreme as MAGA and as out of touch with the American people as possible.

KEITH: That is very likely to be the Biden campaign message for months to come, no matter whether the nominee ends up being Trump or someone else. The Biden campaign intends to paint them all as extreme.

CHANG: OK, well, I'm assuming the Republican candidates will be going after President Biden tonight - like, criticizing him and so forth. Does the Biden campaign have an answer to those expected criticisms?

KEITH: Yeah, Trump isn't going to be onstage. But regardless, what we know is that GOP voters aren't interested in seeing his fellow Republicans go after him. So one of the best bets is that all of these candidates will go after President Biden. That's their best chance for an applause line. And President Biden is unpopular at the moment, particularly on the economy. Another angle they're likely to hit is his son, Hunter Biden, and his legal troubles. The Biden campaign is expecting them to come after the president. So they are trying to counter that with television ads like this one touting his economic record.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The people that I deal with on a day-to-day basis - they're getting a pay raise. What President Biden has accomplished is actually helping real people.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm Joe Biden, and I approve this message.

KEITH: The campaign says that it will spend $25 million running TV ads over the next four months talking about things like insulin prices and bringing back American manufacturing and basically laying the groundwork for Biden's reelection pitch - all while Republicans are still battling it out for the nomination and former President Trump is navigating court dates.

CHANG: But let me ask you this, Tam - the election is still 15 months away, is it just me or isn't it still kind of early to be running campaign ads right now?

KEITH: Oh, it is very early, especially for such a large investment. I looked back - in 2011, during former President Barack Obama's reelection campaign, the first ad buy came months later than this, and it was also much smaller. But for Biden, his approval ratings, especially on his handling of the economy, are just not great. So the campaign is taking this time to try to tell the story they want people to hear - a story that hasn't really broken through. They're also doing a bit of trolling with an internet meme called Dark Brandon with - it's got a picture of Joe Biden with lasers coming out of his eyes. It's been a fundraising sensation for the Biden campaign, and they are all over the Fox News website with that ad tonight as the debate is about to happen.

CHANG: And real quick, any idea whether the president will watch tonight's debate?

KEITH: The president will watch tonight's debate, he said while holding a smoothie, talking to reporters after taking a spin class and a Pilates class.

CHANG: Wow.

KEITH: You know, he's definitely on vacation.

CHANG: That is NPR's senior White House correspondent Tamara Keith. Thank you, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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