Biden, Harris going on in-person fundraising blitz

Anna Rose Layden

President Biden and Vice President Harris are ramping up their in-person fundraising at a critical point less than seven months out from the midterm elections. 

The activity comes as Democrats fear losing the House and Senate majorities, and as donors clamor for more in-person events more than two years into the pandemic.

Harris has appeared at two fundraisers in the past week and Biden is scheduled to headline two separate Democratic National Committee (DNC) events in Portland and Seattle on Thursday as part of his second trip out west as president. 

Democrats say that it’s crucial for Biden and Harris, as well as other well-known members of the administration, to take part in more fundraising events so that Democrats can protect their majorities.

“I think donors, like the rest of the world, are looking for in-person events. We have all been through our long COVID experience and I think we’ve all done our Zoom fundraisers but I think people are done with that,” said Steve Elmendorf, a prominent Democratic lobbyist and donor. 

Biden’s more aggressive fundraising schedule is a welcome change for Democrats, many of whom remain frustrated with former President Obama’s stewardship of the party’s infrastructure during his eight years in the White House. 

Obama, who remains one of the most popular figures among Democrats, was a prolific fundraiser throughout his presidency. But current and former Democratic officials and operatives still complain that he neglected the DNC and state parties for outside groups like Organizing for America and the Center for American Progress.

“You’re not going to talk to anyone who will say that Obama wasn’t a huge fundraising draw,” said one DNC member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss Obama’s handling of the DNC. “The problem was, a lot of that money was being directed to outside groups like OFA, and the actual party machinery really suffered as a result.” 

“I think with Biden, he’s shown more of an interest in the actual party machinery, which is a really welcome thing.”

Still, Biden’s fundraising efforts were limited during his first year in office, largely because of the pandemic. While Biden did some virtual events, he just recently held his first in-person fundraiser of his presidency last month in Washington, D.C.

And Biden has been focused on the war in Ukraine for the better part of two months, which has caused him to limit his domestic travel.

“It’s always hard because you have obviously very important day jobs,” Elmendorf said, noting that at the same time Biden’s ability to deliver in the second half of his first term is “somewhat dependent” on how Democrats perform in the midterms. 

Beginning last week, Biden started doing more domestic trips, which offer him more opportunities to fundraise outside of the nation’s capital.

“Donors small and large have been looking to the White House for a leadership role in building these much-needed resources,” said Jon Reinish, a Democratic strategist. “And whether it’s Biden or any other president, or Harris or any other vice president, it is a constant in politics that the most effective fundraisers are the occupants of the White House and the Naval Observatory.” 

Harris appeared at a Hollywood fundraiser Monday with her husband Doug Emhoff, a former entertainment lawyer, as part of a trip back to her home state.

“We are months away from an election, and it is going to be incumbent on all of us as leaders to remind people of what we stand for and what we have accomplished,” Harris said in remarks to the attendees that were open to reporters, offering a taste of her strategy ahead of the midterms. 

Emhoff has been hitting the fundraising circuit for Democrats and will headline three events later this week, according to a DNC spokesperson. First lady Jill Biden has done three DNC fundraisers thus far this year. 

The DNC has been raising money at a breakneck pace over the past year — a welcome change after years of financial difficulties under the Obama administration. Still, it’s lagging its GOP counterpart, the Republican National Committee (RNC), which pulled in $158.6 million in 2021 compared to the DNC’s $157 million. 

That trend continued in 2022. In the first quarter of the year, the RNC raised $47 million, while the DNC pulled in about $42 million.

The DNC still has a slight cash-on-hand advantage over the RNC. As of the end of March, the DNC had $57.2 million in the bank to the RNC’s $44.9 million. With Biden back on the in-person fundraising circuit, Democrats are hoping to boost their cash advantage.

One longtime Democratic consultant said that Biden’s fundraising efforts for the DNC are particularly important this year. 

While the party’s campaign arms, like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, tend to rake in huge sums of money in midterm election years, the DNC tends to play a less prominent role. 

The consultant said that Biden’s goal should be to direct money toward the DNC so it can invest more heavily in local and state organizing efforts.

“They don’t raise nearly the same amount of money as the congressional committees,” one Democratic consultant said. “But the point is, now you’ve got a guy who’s been in the system for many, many years. He’s establishment. He has people with him who have been in the system and understands the importance of the DNC.” 

The fundraisers also could serve another function: reassuring wary party donors who have become frustrated with Democrats’ prospects in this year’s midterm elections and the lack of progress on Biden’s key agenda items that have been held up in the 50-50 Senate.

“The more engagement we see from the president I think it’s a net positive,” Reinish said. “That said, I do also know from major donors that there is great concern over major, major portions of the agenda that have not come to fruition. So I think while people want to see the president more engaged, there’s also a need to see completion on past items.”

Democrats remain concerned about Biden’s lagging poll numbers, which have been blamed in part on surging inflation and the pandemic, and what they mean for the midterms. But Democrats don’t see the president’s lower approval rating adversely impacting his ability to raise funds for the party. 

“The people who are donors, the kind of people who are going to an event with the president and vice president, are committed to the party,” said Elmendorf. 

Tags 2022 midterm elections Barack Obama California Joe Biden Joe Biden Kamala Harris Kamala Harris Washington

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