Biden allies fear Trump fundraising juggernaut
Joe Biden’s allies are concerned that the former vice president’s campaign will not be able to compete with President Trump’s fundraising juggernaut, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy.
“It's our biggest problem right now in the general election,” one aide acknowledged.
A New York Time analysis found that the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee have a $187 million advantage over the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
“That’s insurmountable,” said one Democrat who has raised money for Biden. “I don’t see how you make that up. People say you don’t need as much for this election because you don’t have to spend on a field team because of the pandemic. But people are stuck at home so you better be able to match their TV spending.”
In March, Biden raised $46.7 million, a major uptick from the $18.1 million he drew in February. His campaign said that 70 percent of the donations stemmed from online contributions.
But the fundraiser said he doesn’t believe Biden will be able to raise as much as Hillary Clinton did in 2016.
He said the fundraising landscape is a dead zone right now, as wealthy donors shut their checkbooks amid the stock market volatility and economic turmoil.
“Biden does not have a strong grassroots fundraising apparatus. Now he doesn’t even have in-person events he can go to, it’s just these Zoom calls. And now throw in the pandemic,” the fundraiser said. “We lost with all the money Hillary Clinton raised. How do we win with less?”
To be sure, now that Biden has become the presumptive Democratic nominee, the campaign can accept larger checks through a joint fundraising agreement with the DNC announced Friday.
The deal between the Biden campaign and the DNC will permit Biden to raise $360,800 from individual donors. From those donations, $5,600 will go to the Biden campaign while the rest goes to the DNC.
Biden will also have several well-funded super PACs working on his behalf, led by Priorities USA, which has a budget of $200 million this cycle.
But Democrats noted that Republicans have their own army of dark money groups that could cancel that out.
“Everyone is worried about it,” the fundraiser said. “Nobody wants to think that we could lose this thing, but we very well could if we don’t address this.”
One Democratic bundler added: “Will he have enough to run a national campaign? I would say yes. But the big question is ‘Will it be enough?' That’s hard to say.”
It is difficult for the campaign to ask for checks in the middle of a pandemic, other fundraisers said. Federal Election Commission data shows that ActBlue, a Democratic online contribution platform, has seen a drop in donations.
Biden held three fundraisers this week, including one on Thursday evening that brought in more than $1.1 million, according to actor and theater performer Billy Porter, who emceed the event.
That online fundraiser — which lasted 46 minutes — included actor Kristin Chenoweth, singer Melissa Etheridge, tennis legend Billie Jean King and Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s former rival in the Democratic primary.
But donors say that while online fundraisers are raising money, they’re not the same as big, traditional check-writing events where he could glad-hand in person with donors.
“What’s a big fundraiser anymore?” the bundler said. “No one cares about having a Zoom call with anyone.”
The bundler and other donors said they did not expect anyone to host fundraisers in the flesh this summer. “No one would show up, even if it were a small event,” one fundraiser said.
Democratic strategist Addisu Demissie, who served as Sen. Cory Booker’s (D-N.J.) presidential campaign manager, said the good news is that money isn’t everything.
Trump won in 2016 despite being outspent, and Biden won the primary despite being outraised by some of his rivals.
However, Demissie said it’s incumbent on the Biden campaign to come up with a creative strategy they can execute in order to defeat Trump on a limited budget.
“You don’t have to catch them,” he said. “But no doubt the triumvirate of the Biden campaign, DNC and state parties will be looking for more financial resources to execute their plans for November.
“Every challenger goes through this, it’s part of going up against an incumbent,” he added. “It’s just graduate-level more difficult because of the pandemic.”