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Joe Biden’s inner circle: No longer a boys club

Weeks before Joe Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign, he released a social media video to address allegations from women who said his uninvited displays of affection had made them uncomfortable.

“Social norms have begun to change. They’ve shifted,” said the former vice president, then 76. Looking straight into a cellphone camera, he added: “I hear what they are saying. I understand.”

Kate Bedingfield, an adviser the same age as Biden’s youngest daughter, was first to propose a direct-to-lens declaration. She joined forces with Anita Dunn, an alumna of President Barack Obama’s West Wing and relative newbie to Biden’s orbit. Together with two of Biden’s longest-serving confidants – Steve Ricchetti and Mike Donilon – they convinced the almost-candidate it was the right course.

When the boss was ready, Bedingfield held up her phone to record.

Those early days of spring 2019 portended a defining new reality for Biden: His innermost circle for decades was dominated by men, with the crucial exceptions of his wife, Jill, and sister, Valerie. But the 50-year political veteran has expanded his brain trust, and the cadre of women now included have helped shape — and even rescue — a campaign that has whipsawed Biden from early favorite to disappointing afterthought and finally to prospective Democratic nominee.

“We don’t have a senior meeting on the campaign where women are not at least half the meeting,” said Bedingfield, the deputy campaign manager, who had joined Biden during his final years as Obama’s vice president. Biden, she said, is “cognizant of the fact that we bring different life experiences to the table, and that that is valuable,” while also seeing women and men as equals in presidential politics.

It’s a vital dynamic for a politician whose career is marked by both successes and controversies where women are concerned, and also for his party, which again will nominate a man despite a historically diverse field that fueled many Democrats’ hopes that a woman finally could win the presidency.

Accordingly, Biden has highlighted that women are leaders on his campaign and assured voters they would remain so in his White House. He pledged days before the South Carolina primary to make a black woman his first Supreme Court nominee. After taking complete command of the nominating fight over subsequent weeks, he named Democratic operative Jen O’Malley Dillon as his campaign manager and promised to select a woman as his running mate.

Biden had previously tasked Dunn, 63, with leading his campaign after an embarrassing fourth-place finish in Iowa last month. Dunn already had bonded with two other top women advisers: Bedingfield, 38, and Symone Sanders, 30, who came to the campaign as one of the party’s most high-profile black women strategists. Dunn also recommended Biden make O’Malley Dillon, 43, his permanent manager.

Bedingfield and Biden’s first campaign manager, Greg Schultz, meanwhile, had built a team with women atop several divisions: policy, political outreach, research, fundraising and accounting. And Biden’s traveling chief of staff is Annie Tomasini, making her the candidate’s day-to-day shepherd.

That’s a notable lineup for a man who came of age in a staunchly patriarchal era. He joined an all-male Senate in 1973.

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