As former vice president Joe Biden’s presidential campaign shows signs of losing momentum, his top donors are getting nervous.
Biden met over the weekend with donors and fundraisers behind closed doors to reassure them, the New York Times reported. Long considered his party’s frontrunner, Biden suffered a precipitous drop in polling as his campaign has been engulfed in the Ukraine controversy also embroiling President Donald Trump.
Biden reassures donors amid campaign worries
There was a sense of urgency at the planned donor retreat, the first for Biden’s top donors since he launched his candidacy, the Times reported. The Biden campaign explained “the path forward” in strategy briefings, and Biden himself gave a 45-minute address to rally their confidence.
The briefings came amid dark forecasts that Biden is losing his frontrunner status to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has nearly closed Biden’s once-comfortable polling gap. Warren has surpassed Biden in three recent national polls, averaging half a percentage point nationally behind Biden according to RealClearPolitics, although Biden has held onto a 12-point lead in a recent POLITICO/Morning Consult poll.
Biden is suffering on the fundraising front as well, closing out his third-quarter behind Pete Buttigieg, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Warren, who outraised him by nearly $10 million. The Times reports that Warren was “by far” the most discussed rival at the donor retreat, which was closed to the press, according to attendees.
As Biden faces down a new threat in Warren, storm clouds are brewing over his son’s business dealings in Ukraine. As Democrats look to impeach Trump over the president’s request to have Ukraine investigate Joe Biden, Hunter Biden’s $600,000-a-year position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company — and Joe Biden’s public boasts about pressuring Ukraine to sack a prosecutor who had investigated that company — have been thrust into the spotlight like never before. Some donors are worried that Trump’s relentless attacks against “Quid Pro Joe” could leave a bad impression with voters.
“We need him to get the nomination because he’s the one who can win,” Denise Bauer, a Biden bundler and former ambassador to Belgium, told the Times, adding that Biden’s donors were “going to try to raise every single dollar we can.”
Biden tapping out big donor machine?
While Biden seeks to play Trump’s attacks into the narrative that Trump fears him, the former vice president undercut that impression by vindictively attacking reporters for asking him pointed questions and falsely denying any knowledge of Hunter’s business. Another problem for Biden is his over-reliance on wealthy donors, some 2,800 of whom have already maxed out contributions to his campaign.
Donors at the gathering acknowledged that Biden, unlike Sanders and Warren, lacks the kind of enthusiastic, grassroots base needed to bring in a steady flow of small donations, making their contributions doubly important. But Biden’s reliance on top donors could prove a structural weakness, David Kochel, a chief strategist for Jeb Bush’s 2016 presidential campaign explained to Politico.
“The former vice president, with all the high-dollar contacts around the country — you do all the big fundraisers in the big cities. Once you do that, that’s it. If you don’t have that perpetual, low-dollar fundraising machine, you can’t compete,” said Kochel.
Biden’s fundraising woes, already troubling to his biggest donors, could get worse if the people writing the big checks start having second thoughts. Donors who attended a private debate viewing event in September groaned when Biden went on a rambling aside that referenced a record-player, the Times reported.
Doubts about Biden’s fitness for office have dogged his campaign from the start, but they have grown more troubling for donors amid Biden’s repeated gaffes on the campaign trail and a series of embarrassing debate performances.
The Ukraine scandal may be what seals Biden’s fate, but some donors are holding out hope that it’s just a rough patch. “I always come away from things with him thinking I’ve got to work harder. I need to do more,” Bauer said. “He doesn’t ask for that. He inspires that.”