“The Operators” is a series profiling influential political aides on Capitol Hill, in the White House and on closely watched political campaigns about the behind-the-scenes work they do.
His campaign colleagues, including deputy campaign manager and communications director Kate Bedingfield, described him as a “backbone” of the Biden press shop, and “one of the best in the business.”
Bates was the director of rapid response for the Biden campaign, and was charged with defending the now-president-elect and his team against attacks on the campaign trail, while also employing an aggressive offensive strategy against President Trump and his team.
The 33-year-old was brought into the world of politics more than a quarter-century ago by his dad.
“He introduced me to politics by taking me to a Clinton-Gore rally when I was 5 — which I mostly slept through,” Bates told Fox News. “But he helped me understand that government in the right hands saves lives.”
Bates, left, with his mother and his late father at the White House.
Years later, Bates found himself taking time off from his undergraduate studies at North Carolina State University for an internship with the Obama campaign in 2008.
“After finishing college I spent six years in the Obama administration; first with the White House Communications Department and then the U.S. Trade Representative,” Bates said. “In 2016, I went home to North Carolina to be the Clinton campaign’s communications director there.”
Before joining the Biden campaign in 2019, Bates led the House races arm for the Democratic super PAC American Bridge during the 2018 midterm elections.
But this campaign was unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing campaign staff off the trail and out of the Biden campaign headquarters in Philadelphia to their living rooms.
“On campaigns, you become close with your coworkers very quickly and you’re much more accustomed to being side by side with them in the office than to being home at all,” Bates told Fox News. “So it was a shock to the system going immediately from the highs of March 10, when Joe Biden effectively locked the nomination and our staff celebrated in the Constitution Center, to never working out of our headquarters again.”
He added: “But we supported each other, and found ways to reach out to our friends — like socially-distanced walks, dropping off things each other needed, virtual happy hours, or a ‘mandatory’ 4 p.m. dance party on Google Hangouts that I only joined once after being snookered by a fake subject line.”
The Biden campaign HQ, before shuttering its doors, was sprinkled with conference rooms named after ice cream flavors. Bates took over one, named “Rocky Road,” to handle incoming calls during the Trump impeachment proceedings.
Bates, center, in the ‘Pistachio’ ‘Strawberry’ conference room at the Biden Headquarters, with Bill Russo, left, Kate Bedingfield, and to the right, TJ Ducklo.
“‘If Bates is in there, we should rename it the ‘Knives and Arsenic Room,’” Bates recalled a longtime Biden adviser saying when he heard of the rapid response plans during the impeachment inquiry. “Then a colleague printed out a sign with that name and taped it to the door.”
He joked: “It really touched me.”
Bates often traded barbs with his counterparts on the rival Trump campaign on Twitter, issuing fiery statements, regularly referencing the team’s campaign efforts, attacking President Trump for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and more.
Bates told Fox News that the “best thing” about the campaign was bonding with staff who he says “have joined my family forever,” but told Fox News that his second favorite, was linked with his least.
“I hated the abject cruelty that Donald Trump and his allies resorted to as they debased the presidency in their unsuccessful attempts to smear Joe Biden and hang onto power,” Bates said. “But at the same time, it was incredibly gratifying to help shatter their attacks like glass, pivot to offense, and then watch them howl in very public frustration.”
The Biden campaign’s national press secretary, TJ Ducklo, worked closely with Bates, telling Fox News that his colleague is “fierce, unrelenting, lightning-fast and intensely loyal.”
“He’s also brilliant,” Ducklo said. “The president-elect is lucky to have him, and I’m just lucky to be on the same side as him.”
He added: “Because I’ve seen what happens to the people who are not.”
Ducklo, in the car, and Bates, right, during the Biden campaign.
Bates left Philadelphia in the late spring, setting up his new campaign office in his mom’s house outside of Winston-Salem, N.C., which he said gave him and his girlfriend “access to the best barbecue in the entire world next door in Lexington.”
Bates told Fox News that his average day on the “virtual” campaign trail was filled with phone calls, texts and emails from reporters; meals at odd times of the day.
“At around 10:27 a.m., I’d eat a late lunch,” Bates told Fox News. “In the 4 pm hour, dinner — of course.”
“And at 10:30 p.m., my girlfriend and I would watch The Sopranos and she’d ask me why I was already destroying breakfast,” he said.
The days began at 6 a.m., when Bates would “catch up on print news and long-term projects, and then watch the morning shows.” Then, the Biden campaign had a standing 9:15 a.m. communications call about the message of the day and stories they were working on; followed by a noon-time press team check-in, and a 5 p.m. evening communications team call. At 8:30 p.m., Bates would take part in a standing rapid response team call to be prepared for the following day.
“Bates was a backbone of our press shop on this campaign,” Bedingfield, who served as the campaign’s communications director as well as deputy campaign manager told Fox News. “He’s whip-smart, he’s relentless and he is unfailingly dedicated to Joe Biden. I pitied the opposition researcher who tried to land a hit on Bates’ watch.”
She added: “Simply put: he’s one of the best in the business.”
Now, with the campaign behind him, Bates has pivoted to the Biden Transition Team — specifically focused on the confirmation process for key administration appointments.
Bates praised President-elect Biden, saying he joined the team due to his “unwavering sense of who he is and what his convictions are.”
“I wanted him to be president because of what drives him at his core: taking care of and standing up for other people,” Bates told Fox News. “He’s endured some of the most painful things a human being can, but he came out of every single one resolved to help others more.”
He added: “He didn’t withdraw; he rededicated himself to service. That’s the embodiment of character.”
Bates touted Biden as having “an extremely strong sense of empathy as a leader that makes him a healer by nature — one who cares about every community, who strives to bring people together, and to comfort those who are hurting.”
“By the same token, he despises bullies and abusers of power who take advantage of their neighbors.”
As for the next four years, Bates said a Biden presidency represents “that nobody is ‘less than,’ that every American deserves a fighting chance, and that someone who knows in his marrow what it’s like to be middle class and who knows what our country has to stand for is in the Oval Office again.”
Bates added: “Like Joe Biden said, ‘America is back.’”