When Julián Castro wasn’t given a speaking slot at the Democratic National Convention in August, he complained that Joe Biden’s campaign wasn’t showing proper respect to Latino voters. The real explanation for the snub is much simpler: The former housing secretary and presidential candidate had implied that Biden was senile in a primary debate and then didn’t endorse him until June, though the primary race had been over since April, when Bernie Sanders dropped out.
Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to the Biden campaign from the start, declined to comment on what happened with Castro. (An aide to Castro insisted he offered to endorse in April, but the Biden campaign sat on that, and an offer for advice on Latino outreach.) But keeping track of who crosses Biden—staff, reporters, politicians—is part of what she does. She watches. She listens. She remembers. She is completely comfortable with giving a firm no.
“As [Biden] will be the first to say, he’s the only Irishman who doesn’t carry a grudge,” Dunn told me. “I’m not Irish, but I will carry his grudges.”
Nixing Castro from the convention is just one example of the relentless focus on the long run that defined Biden’s campaign—and Dunn’s role in it. Dunn “is not interested in winning a news cycle—she’s interested in winning an election,” Stephanie Cutter, her friend and an outside Biden-campaign adviser, told me. “And there’s a big difference.” Although Castro was out, the Democrats devoted large parts of their convention to appealing to Latinos in other ways—highlighting individuals talking about what climate change meant for them, or offering personal stories about immigration policy. That outreach didn’t work perfectly. But Biden has brought this emphasis on on-the-ground expertise, rather than boldfaced names, to his early Cabinet picks, who are mostly longtime Washington insiders instead of nationally known political figures. Dunn is especially comfortable leading a team that privileges expertise over flash, having worked on six Democratic presidential campaigns over the past 40 years while remaining largely unknown to the general public. She’ll guide the new administration too—and remain out of the spotlight while she does it.