Graduates at the University of Toledo commencement ceremony
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The Biden Campaign Quietly Got a Big Jump on Youth Organizing

Past presidential campaigns only used college campuses to get out the vote. The Biden team has a new tactic.

President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign has a formal presence on college campuses earlier than usual for presidential campaigns — part of a plan, aides say, to supercharge support among Biden’s existing student backers and win over younger voters.

It’s an underreported shift in strategy from previous elections that could prove crucial to Biden, who relied on strong support from young voters when he defeated former President Donald Trump in 2020. In the past, formal campus organizing began in the fall semester, but this time, formal relationships with Democratic and allied groups on campuses have been running for a couple of weeks already.

Recent headlines about college students and Biden have focused on vocal disagreements with the president over the war in Gaza and a general ennui among Gen Z voters. The Biden campaign says it has time to win those voters back.

“This gives us the opportunity to reach and engage with voters earlier,” a campaign aide said of the new youth vote strategy, “so we’re earning, not just asking for their vote.”

The strategy change has come under the leadership of Eve Levenson, who joined the campaign as director of youth engagement in January, a job not usually filled until late summer, according to campaign aides.

“Waiting until the fall basically means that it’s only GOTV, and you lose the opportunity for some of that earlier voter contact,” Levenson told NOTUS. “Increased time allows for a lot more strategic thinking.”

Levenson has a lot of experience thinking strategically about young voters. She was an activist in her native California before joining the anti-gun violence movement that followed the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. She joined the Democratic National Committee as youth coalitions director in late 2023 before shifting to the Biden campaign.

She said the Biden campaign strategy focuses on young Americans talking to other young Americans about where their values connect with the president’s.

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For college voters, Students for Biden-Harris aims to have chapters on major campuses throughout the battleground states, which will connect volunteer student organizers to campaign staff. Building that infrastructure now allows the campaign to begin training student volunteers and activating them to join Biden campaign ground operations through its Reach App, a grassroots organizing tool that leverages the voter file.

Polling almost universally shows younger voters are on the Democratic side of issues like abortion rights and climate change. College students, of course, make up just one slice of those voters. Levenson says she’s already focusing on the rest of the younger electorate beyond college students with messaging that helps separate Biden from Trump. On Friday, as the campaign was focused on the anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, her team sought to inform voters who may not remember the world before Obamacare that repeal would endanger coverage for people who can be part of their parents’ health care plan to age 26.

Evan McMorris-Santoro is a reporter at NOTUS.