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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pass the Torch USA

Political leanings: Democratic/Pro-Dean Phillips

2022 total spending: N/A

Pass the Torch USA was created in November to promote the presidential campaign of Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota. Phillips announced in late October that he would challenge President Joe Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2024.

Phillips, who tried to convince more well-known Democrats to run against Biden, said he entered the race because some early election polling indicated that Biden could lose in a general election matchup against former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. In the speech announcing his long-shot candidacy, Phillips said he is “the Democratic candidate who can win” in 2024, and “it is time for the torch to be passed to a new generation of American leaders.”

Pass the Torch USA is registered as a super PAC, or independent expenditure-only committee. As such, it can accept unlimited donations that it can use to fund communications that advocate for or against candidates for public office. But it is prohibited from coordinating directly with candidates, campaigns or political parties. It also must periodically disclose its donors to the Federal Election Commission.

Steve Schmidt, who advised campaigns for Republicans George W. Bush, John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger, helped launch the pro-Phillips super PAC. Schmidt, a former Republican, also was part of the team that co-founded the mostly anti-Trump Lincoln Project in 2019.

As of Jan. 4, detailed financial reports on Pass the Torch’s fundraising and spending were not available on the FEC website. However, the Washington Post reported that the group “is expected to raise millions of dollars, according to a person familiar with its plans.”

FEC filings that are available show the super PAC already has put more than $450,000 into producing and airing ads supporting Phillips in parts of New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Almost all of the ads include language about passing the torch because “Trump is winning,” a reference to polls that show Trump leading Biden among voters in several swing states critical to Democrats retaining the White House.

Phillips is focusing on campaigning in New Hampshire, where Biden opted not to be on the ballot because the state’s Democratic primary date conflicts with the Democratic National Committee’s preferred primary schedule.

New Hampshire’s Republican secretary of state scheduled the state’s primary elections for Jan. 23, ahead of South Carolina’s Democratic primary on Feb. 3, which the DNC had decided would be the first primary contest for Democrats. New Hampshire has historically been the “first-in-the-nation” primary for Democrats and Republicans — after the Iowa caucuses — but the DNC voted this year to switch to South Carolina because of its more racially diverse population.