Sep 11, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Kamala Harris' big-donor mission

Kamala Harris

Harris waves as she prepares to depart from LaGuardia Airport after the annual 9/11 ceremony in Manhattan. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The Biden re-election campaign is deploying Vice President Kamala Harris to Chicago on Wednesday afternoon for a donor retreat, where she'll seek to motivate deep-pocketed supporters to act with more urgency — without panicking.

Why it matters: As recent polls draw a new round of Democratic hand-wringing, the campaign needs its donor base to be both confident of President Biden's prospects in November and a little scared about the chances of a Trump restoration.

Between the lines: Biden's team is convinced it will raise more than the combined $1.6 billion the campaign and affiliated groups collected in 2020, with former President Trump likely to once again win the GOP nomination.

  • But it wants donations now, when their relative worth is exponentially higher than it will be next year.
  • Money raised in 2023 can build the infrastructure to run an effective ground game in 2024, when late-arriving donations typically go straight into TV ad buys.

Zoom in: Harris' appearance, which resulted from a direct request from the campaign, is also an opportunity for the VP to meet with some of the party's most prolific fundraisers and showcase her central role in the re-election effort.

What they're saying: "The campaign's cash on hand and ability to reach grassroots donors will set Biden up well for the next 14 months," Jim Messina, former President Obama's 2012 campaign manager, told Axios.

  • "In that time, here's what's going to happen: Republicans will burn money and push themselves further to the right out-Trumping Trump, voters will start to focus on the choice between extreme MAGA policies and Biden's popular ones, and grassroots donations to Biden will snowball."

Driving the news: To kick off the three-day retreat, Harris will be interviewed by campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez in a closed-door discussion Wednesday afternoon.

  • Donors and fundraisers will also get a walk-through of the Democratic convention site, the United Center, and receive briefings from other Biden officials, including senior adviser Anita Dunn.
  • Participants have been reminded that they can donate up to $929,600 to the Biden Victory Fund, according to an invite obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, which first reported on the retreat.
  • Campaign officials expect at least 150 attendees.

The big picture: Biden officials are bracing for a tight election next year and are focusing on replicating their 2020 map by spending resources — and the president's time — in the upper Midwest, as well as Nevada, Arizona and Georgia.

  • The campaign is also going to invest heavily in North Carolina, a state Biden lost by less than two points to Trump.
  • Biden's campaign started to air ads during last week's NFL opener, while outside groups have announced another $13 million buy to convince voters the economy is better than many Americans seem to be telling pollsters.
  • Biden is relying on all the trappings of the White House, including official policy events and foreign travel, to drive his message home to voters.

What we're watching: Biden advisers express confidence they will report solid fundraising numbers for the campaign's third quarter, which ends Sept. 30.

  • But there are some whispers that they're struggling with small-dollar donations.
  • "We've done very well in the last 2½ to three years with big donations," said Chris Korge, the chairman of the Biden Victory Fund, on a call with donors, according to NBC News.
  • "But now we're getting into crunch time, and we're going to need an army of [fund]raisers," Korge said.

Flashback: The Biden campaign raised over $72 million with the Democratic National Committee from April to July.

The bottom line: Money is unlikely to be a major problem for the Biden-Harris campaign. But it still needs to do the hard work of raising it — and that requires donor maintenance with VIP treatment and intimate briefings.

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