Joe Biden has been rushing to win financial support for his 2024 re-election campaign with a fundraising blitz that is testing the enthusiasm of anxious Democratic donors.
The US president has been trying to rake in as much money as possible before the end of the second quarter so he can start amassing a war chest with a target in excess of $1bn and brush away concerns that his re-election bid launched in April is off to a slow start.
Biden has in the past two weeks tried to woo Democratic donors at events ranging from private homes in Silicon Valley and the leafy suburbs of Chevy Chase, Maryland, to a hotel ballroom in downtown Chicago.
On Thursday, he capped the tour off with a trip to New York City for two fundraisers — one at an Upper West Side apartment and the other at an upscale midtown cocktail bar.
The events in New York brought out some of Wall Street’s top Democrats, from Mark Gallogly of Centerbridge and Blair Effron of Centerview to Peter Orszag of Lazard, Jonathan Gray of Blackstone, Roger Altman of Evercore and Deven Parekh of Insight.
Meanwhile, vice-president Kamala Harris and first lady Jill Biden have also fanned out across the country to raise cash in another sign of the campaign’s urgency to meet rolling financial targets.
Some donors say Biden’s campaign has been pushing them to make early commitments but that it has not always been easy. Despite big legislative accomplishments on the economy and his role in uniting the west over the war in Ukraine, there is uneasiness about his low approval ratings and his age.
“There’s a huge arm twisting to get everybody on board and make vocal expressions of support for the president,” said one top Democratic donor. “I like Joe Biden — I’m just worried that the signs are not good for his ability to win.”
A poor showing for fundraising in the second quarter threatens to reinforce concerns among some Democrats over a lack of fervour for Biden’s candidacy among the party’s traditional financial supporters and its voter base. A solid number might put some of those worries to rest, offering the president, party officials, and their supporters more confidence that his bid can be successful.
Some tickets for Biden fundraisers, including one of the Chevy Chase events this week, were offered for as little as $3,300 apiece, according to two Democratic donors, one of whom interpreted the lowball price of admission as a sign things are “not going well”. But other tickets have been selling for much higher amounts.
Biden has also enlisted Barack Obama, who he served under as vice-president, Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker, JB Pritzker, the governor of Illinois, and Gavin Newsom, the California governor, to help juice donations big and small.
A spokesperson for Biden’s 2024 campaign said it was “encouraged by the strong response” it was seeing “from donors and our grassroots supporters” compared with four years ago, adding that the president had raised cash from people who did not contribute last time round.
“While Maga Republicans duke it out over extreme, divisive and unpopular policies in their primary, we are ensuring that we have the resources needed to run an aggressive, winning campaign,” the spokesperson said.
The size of the Biden campaign’s haul will become public in mid-July, when the Federal Election Commission will publish quarterly fundraising records for all the candidates in the presidential race, including Republicans such as Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis.
The president’s top campaign aides have not publicly set a target. By the second quarter of 2011 — the year before his re-election bid — Obama had raised just under $50mn. Biden’s campaign raised just over $20mn by the same point in 2019 before his successful run the following year.
Jim Messina, who served as campaign manager for Obama’s re-election bid in 2012, said he had little doubt that Biden would end up reaching his goals, particularly with Trump still in pole position as the most likely Republican candidate.
“I just think that any concern about them being able to raise the amount of money they need is just crazy,” Messina said. “Donald Trump is the Democratic party’s ATM. If he’s their nominee there’s going to be an explosion of fundraising.”
“Everyone understands the stakes in 2024,” Effron from Centerview said as he introduced Biden at one of Thursday’s New York fundraisers.
Messina stressed how important it had been for Biden to reach joint fundraising agreements with the Democratic National Committee in all 50 states, allowing him to tap funds raised by the party for his re-election campaign. Obama had only done so in 11 of the closest swing states, he said.
He also noted that while Obama preferred smaller, more intimate fundraising events that charged more money for attendance, Biden prefers larger gatherings that command lower ticket prices.
Robert Wolf, a former senior UBS executive and a top fundraiser for Obama, said there were limits to what Biden could or even should do on the money trail at this stage in the race while also serving as president.
“You are going to see the coverage of the primary season of the Republican party every day, 24/7 . . . It is hard to compete with that,” Wolf said. “You have to think about how you want to make sure you are engaging your constituents, but at the same time, you are the president, you can’t be campaigning every day. It is a very different approach.”
One Democratic donor who helped pay for Biden’s 2020 campaign said they had not so far been aggressively courted and suggested fundraising efforts had not yet kicked into high gear. Biden has yet to formally choose a finance chair for the 2024 campaign.
But Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist based in New York, said the effort appears to gaining steam. “It is a year and a half out. We are not at full speed, nor should we be, but I think the basics are pretty good.”
“They are on track to put together the largest campaign in history and that will take resources in everything, from organising and grassroots activities to major media campaigns,” Ferguson said.
Additional reporting by Antoine Gara and Ortenca Aliaj