© Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post
President Biden speaks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday.

By the time Air Force One returned from Ireland in the pre-dawn hours of April 15, President Biden’s plans to announce his reelection campaign were already in motion.

A videographer soon met him in Rehoboth Beach, Del., where Biden spent the weekend, after arriving in Dover at 2:26 a.m. with his sister, Valerie, and his son, Hunter. The president shot parts of the launch video over the next two days before returning to the White House on Sunday night, according to people familiar with events, who like others in this story requested anonymity to describe private conversations.

Biden to announce reelection bid

Once Biden returned to the White House, he and first lady Jill Biden met with senior aides to finalize the details of the reelection launch, and after the Bidens signed off on the plans, the officials ramped up their final preparations.

Top fundraising officials at the Democratic National Committee scrambled to make dozens of phone calls, frequently ending up in voice mails, inviting top donors for a hastily arranged summit with the president to plan events. Other staffers were dispatched to build a campaign website that could receive the first donations of what some in the party believe could amount to a $2 billion effort, counting the spending of outside groups.

Months of speculation about when and how Biden would announce his widely anticipated reelection were about to come to an end. And it would happen just as Biden wanted it: a close circle of longtime advisers sitting with the president to make the final calls, a short runway to the launch, and a timetable he controlled — on the four-year anniversary of his 2020 campaign announcement.

Biden had been in no hurry to announce, happy to stay above the fray while Republicans battled it out. But suddenly the reasons to delay were outweighed by the reasons to push ahead.

“If he is really running, then there is no reason to wait, because you do have to get these things done,” said David Axelrod, who was a senior adviser to President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. “It didn’t impinge on Obama at all that we had a campaign. The only reasons not to announce would be you are not sure you wanted to announce.”

Democrats say the announcement will change little in the short term for Biden, who is scheduled to visit Japan and Australia next month and will face a budgetary and debt ceiling standoff with House Republicans shortly after he returns. But those involved in the reelection effort are eager to begin building a campaign, drafting a new community of small-dollar online donors and organizers, and standing up an operation that can begin to attack potential Republican nominees as they enter the field.

Unlike Obama, who came out of the 2010 midterms having suffered a dispiriting wipeout, Biden heads a party relatively optimistic about its chances at this point in the cycle. He faces no major challenge for his party’s nomination, and White House aides believe his legislative successes will pay greater returns as the year progresses — voters, they argue, will start to see more infrastructure projects, feel the impact of cheaper prescription drugs and reap the benefits of manufacturing incentives.

But there is also a starker subtext to the brewing campaign. Biden, 80, is seen by many Democrats as having saved the country from Donald Trump, but also as an aging figure with an uncertain future. Meanwhile, Trump is pushing for a potential third Republican nomination, as his legal problems escalate and GOP voters try to decide whether his appeal is worth the chaos and unpredictability that tend to follow in his wake.

Against that backdrop, Democratic voters express tepid support for Biden as their nominee. A February Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 16 percent of those who lean Democratic were enthusiastic about Biden’s reelection in 2024, compared to 57 percent who said they would be satisfied but not enthusiastic. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 58 percent said they would prefer someone other than Biden as their nominee.

But the overriding concern for many Democrats is ensuring that Trump does not return to the White House, and some still see Biden as their best bet.

“I’m very optimistic that Joe Biden will be reelected,” said Dick Harpootlian, a South Carolina-based lawyer and a longtime Biden donor whose wife is the U.S. ambassador to Slovenia. “I understand there are constituencies that want a younger nominee, but there’s no one I’ve seen that can galvanize not only the base but also swing voters like him.”

Harpootlian said Biden is particularly suited to defeat Trump again if there’s a rematch from 2020.

“Is he old?” he said. “Yeah, he’s old. But he’s only four years older than Trump, so less distinction there. He is vibrant, and he’s gotten a huge number of things accomplished.”

Two political activists with no elected experience — Marianne Williamson, who ran against Biden in 2020, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of former senator Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) — have announced that they will challenge Biden for the Democratic nomination. But the DNC has said it will support Biden’s reelection, and it has no plans to sponsor primary debates.

Biden’s announcement video, which is expected to run between 90 seconds and two minutes, is slated to be released Tuesday morning, on the four-year anniversary of his 2020 campaign launch.

The president is then scheduled to speak at the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ U.S. Legislative Conference — another echo of his 2020 presidential launch. Back then, Biden announced his presidential campaign with a video and then held his first rally at a Teamsters union ballroom in Pittsburgh.

In the days leading up to the launch, staff have focused on finalizing the logistical elements that the campaign will require in its early days, including work related to ActBlue, the Democratic platform campaigns use to raise money, and NGP VAN, the voter database used by the Democratic Party.

Biden, meanwhile, is spending the weekend at Camp David, where he is expected to sign off on additional campaign-related decisions.

Two people involved in the reelection effort said they expect Julie Chavez Rodriguez, currently the director of the White House office of intergovernmental affairs, to manage the campaign, although people with knowledge of the discussions cautioned on Saturday that there had been no final decision yet.

Biden aides also have not announced the location campaign headquarters, though there is growing confidence that the president will settle on his hometown of Wilmington, a little more than an hour away from Washington by Amtrak.

The president has long telegraphed his plans to run for reelection, but that has not tamped down skepticism from some lawmakers, activists and diplomats who doubted that the 80-year-old would run again. Biden is already the oldest president in history, and if he wins a second term, he would be 86 at the end of it; the second-oldest, Ronald Reagan, was 77 when he left office. (Trump is 76.)

Biden, 80, faces renewed questions on age as he weighs reelection

Just before leaving for Ireland this month, Biden told NBC of his intention to run again. “I’m planning on running, Al,” he said to Al Roker. “But we’re not prepared to announce it yet.”

Days later, as he concluded his trip overseas, where the president had time with his family and was greeted by cheering crowds, Biden hinted that preparations had advanced.

“I’ve already made that calculus,” he told reporters just before boarding Air Force One, when asked about his decision. “We’ll announce it relatively soon. But the trip here just reinforced my sense of optimism about what can be done.”

Biden addresses enthusiastic Irish crowd

The White House and the DNC declined to comment for this article.

As of Saturday, plans were still being finalized for the donor summit that is now scheduled for the end of the week. Officials invited roughly 50 to 100 of the party’s top fundraisers and bundlers to a Friday night event with the president, with the goal of energizing contributors and rallying support.

But donors were still waiting to find out the nature of the event with the president and where it would take place. They were also told Biden’s aides may host a briefing on Saturday, though that has not been confirmed. Biden is scheduled to speak at the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner in Washington on Saturday night.

Biden’s approach has diverted strikingly from the path his former governing partner, Barack Obama, took in the run-up to his own reelection. Unlike Biden, Obama was comfortable not being intimately involved in the construction of his campaign, and he preferred a long period of formal preparation. By the summer of 2010, before the midterm elections that year, Obama had secretly selected Jim Messina as his campaign manager-in-waiting.

By January of 2011, Messina, Axelrod and others in Obama’s political operation had departed for Chicago, where they began to assemble a campaign largely independent of the president, save occasional phone calls and Saturday fly-in meetings at the White House.

Biden, by contrast, has a long pattern of delaying campaign launches and wavering in his decisions. He repeatedly pushed back a campaign announcement in 2018 and 2019, prompting people in his orbit to publicly voice concerns that he was giving Democratic rivals an advantage by allowing them to scoop up talented staff while he delayed.

He considered presidential campaigns in 1980 and 1984 before passing on the opportunities, and he openly agonized over a presidential run in 1988 before joining the field. He also spent months considering a campaign in 2016, before deciding to pass.

Unlike Obama, Biden prefers in-person meetings to phone calls and has signaled to his staff that he wants his top advisers to stay close. Rather than a single hierarchical structure, Biden has long preferred multiple layers of advisers — a council of longtime aides who form his inner circle and a broader group of semiautonomous campaign leaders who operate somewhat separately.

That could make for a complicated, somewhat overlapping arrangement as Biden simultaneously heads the White House and a campaign. Jen O’Malley Dillon, his 2020 campaign manager and now a deputy chief of staff, has signaled that she is staying in the White House, as has Anita Dunn, another top adviser working to set up the campaign.

Senior adviser Mike Donilon has said he is open to leaving the White House or staying, depending on what Biden wants. Also involved in campaign preparations are Jeff Zients, the White House chief of staff; Ron Klain, the former chief of staff; and senior advisers Steve Ricchetti and Bruce Reed.