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Biden makes staffing changes after 'punch in the gut' poor showing in Iowa

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By Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor  with NBC News Politics
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks at a campaign stop in Burlington, Iowa, on Jan. 31, 2020.   -   Copyright  Andrew Harnik AP file

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Joe Biden has tapped a senior aide to take on an "expanded role" in the day-to-day operations of his campaign, the first tangible shift in strategy for the one-time national frontrunner since a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Iowa caucuses.

The announcement came in an email to staff on Thursday night from campaign manager Greg Schultz and chairman Steve Ricchetti, in which they also acknowledged some staff-level departures after the Iowa "punch in the gut" coupled with new hires and an eye toward Super Tuesday on March 3.

Dunn had already been playing a key role at the highest levels of the Biden operation, primarily focused on communications strategy and debate prep. The internal email, which was first reported by The New York Times, said she now "will be working closely with us on campaign strategy and overall coordination on budget and personnel as we build a bigger campaign for the next phase."

The Biden campaign has had one campaign manager — Schultz — since it launched in April. But in reality there has been from the start a bigger inner circle of advisers who have the candidate's ear and a say in decision making well before Biden formally announced his candidacy in April. That circle has always included Dunn, a former White House communications director and longtime Democratic strategist, as well as Ricchetti, chief strategist Mike Donilon, and deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield. Symone Sanders has also played an outside role in political operations and messaging.

And so even as the campaign appeared to be sending a signal of accountability in the wake of Iowa, aides tried to insist to reporters that the shift was not a dramatic one.

"This is not an overhaul of our campaign structure, it's not even, frankly, a dramatically different role for her," a senior adviser said on a conference call with reporters.

Dunn's expanded role could signal Biden will take a more aggressive posture toward his Democratic rivals after a campaign largely centered around President Donald Trump, as has already been on display this week with direct and sharp attacks on Bernie Sandersand Pete Buttigieg, who both finished at the top of the field in Iowa and are leading in New Hampshire polls.

One aide said it is also something of a "slap on the wrist" for Schultz, acknowledging that his broader duties as campaign manager kept him from having a greater impact on the area that has long been his strong suit — field organizing.

Schultz entered the Biden orbit after serving as the Ohio state director for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign. Biden brought him into his office in 2013 as he hoped to lay the groundwork for a 2016 campaign, before his son Beau's cancer diagnosis and death ultimately changed that.

Asked who was in charge of the campaign at this point — Dunn, Ricchetti or Schultz — a senior official said: "The person in charge of the campaign is Joe Biden."