Joe Biden collected at least $1.7 million this week from two Florida fundraisers, underscoring the former vice president’s pull with big-dollar Democratic donors and his front-runner status in a crowded presidential primary.
The twin fundraisers in the Miami and Orlando areas capped a month-long coast-to-coast cash dash by Biden, who spent the eve of his campaign announcement fretting about whether he could raise the money to prove he was the real deal. Biden then went on to shatter first-day fundraising records, as his campaign built an online small-dollar fundraising machine to complement his pursuit of traditional donors who can write max-out checks of $2,800 per election.
Biden’s huge two-day financial haul in Florida highlights the still-ample power of big donors in a Democratic primary field that has put more emphasis on digital dollars. The fundraising schedule and courting of donors by Biden used to be as common for a presidential campaign as printing mailers, but it now stands out as an increasingly vocal progressive wing and its favored candidates — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — have cast Biden’s fundraising in a negative light, which his donors resent.
“It’s sour grapes, like saying they wouldn’t join a club that wouldn’t have them as a member anyway,” said John Morgan, the Orlando-area trial lawyer who hosted a Biden fundraiser at his home on Tuesday and said days before the event that he had $1.3 million in donations already committed to Biden.
“What they [Sanders and Warren] are doing is playing a game to try to block him from taking low-hanging fruit that, in some cases, they can’t get. But in other cases, they haven’t even tried. Joe has,” Morgan said.
Morgan said that donors are turned off by the type of “socialism” that Warren and Sanders espouse and many personally like Biden anyway because “Biden is in the middle, and that’s where the majority of the country is and where the donors are.”
Sanders and Warren’s campaigns didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Before Morgan’s $1.3 million fundraiser on Tuesday, Miami developer and longtime Biden supporter Michael Adler hosted a fundraiser Monday evening in Coral Gables that brought in as much as $400,000, according to two people familiar with the preliminary numbers.
In contrast, in nearby Miami Beach and at the same time as Biden’s Monday fundraiser, Democratic primary rival Pete Buttigieg had a fundraiser that pulled more than $100,000, the campaign confirmed. The campaign said Buttigieg raised another $40,000 at a small-dollar event in Miami that drew hundreds of attendees.
In Hollywood, Biden reportedly raised $700,000 earlier this month. And in his first day as an announced candidate on April 25, $700,000 of the $6.3 million Biden raised in the first 24 hours of launching his campaign came from an event at the Philadelphia home of a Comcast executive, which Warren and Sanders criticized.
“How did Joe Biden raise so much money in one day?” Warren wrote in an email to supporters when the news of Biden’s record-setting one-day haul was reported. “Well, it helps that he hosted a swanky private fund-raiser for wealthy donors at the home of the guy who runs Comcast’s lobbying shop.”
But while Warren bashed “fancy private fundraising events where only big donors are invited,” the Philadelphia Inquirer noted that Warren had raised money in similar settings in Philadelphia from some of the same donors — but for her Senate race.
Sensitive to the criticism that he’s doing the bidding of special interests in secret, Biden made a novel move for a front-running presidential candidate, opening up the fundraisers to the press to ensure a measure of transparency — and free media coverage. The result is that Biden often gives a condensed 15-minute version of his standard stump speech.
“For some people it’s like, ‘What am I paying for?’ Because it’s not like they’re getting anything extra,” said one donor who didn’t want to be identified speaking critically of the campaign. “But most people just want to support the candidate and get their picture taken, so it’s not that big of a deal.”
Biden’s campaign said in a press release Tuesday that his momentum is increasing.
“Our fundraising has been driven by rapid, massive growth over the last month,” Brandon English, a Biden adviser, said in a written statement. “We’re grateful for the overwhelming grassroots support we’re seeing through our digital outreach, the majority of which comes from donors brand new to our list. We’re continuing to build a robust digital operation that brings new voters to Team Joe and puts our campaign in a position of strength to take on Donald Trump.”
According to the campaign, 97 percent of all donations to Biden are under $200 and almost two-thirds of campaign donors have contributed $25 of less. Biden’s campaign added that its “largest hour of grassroots fundraising since the campaign launch came on Saturday during the Philly kickoff rally, raising more than $1,000 per minute.”
Heading into the race, Biden knew fundraising was a key to his candidacy.
“People think Iowa and New Hampshire are the first test. It’s not. The first 24 hours. That’s the first test,” he said of posting a big fundraising total. “Those [early states] are way down the road. We’ve got to get through this first.”
For Rufus Gifford, finance director for President Obama’s reelection campaign and a former ambassador to Denmark, the Biden campaign has skillfully managed expectations and balanced the need for raising big sums with the knowledge that it might cost him some voters in a primary. But the rewards outweigh the risks, he said.
“One of the biggest issues for Democrats to who can beat Trump, who’s more electable,” Gifford said. “You know what makes you more electable? Money.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
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