Harris sets off Democratic donor stampede

Harris sets off Democratic donor stampede

  • September 4, 2020
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Harris flashed her fundraising muscle with jaw-dropping totals: The Biden campaign raised $25.5 million the day following her addition to the ticket. That number ballooned to $48 million in two days. The top four fundraising days for Biden’s campaign have now all come within a week of Harris’ selection.

For comparison, the campaign’s previous single best fundraising day came in at $10 million on June 30, at the close of the second quarter fundraising period. These totals also benefit from higher rates for individual giving, after Biden’s campaign merged forces with the Democratic National Committee to jointly fundraise earlier this year.

Before Harris joined the ticket, Biden had already nearly closed the cash gap between Democrats and President Donald Trump, outraising him in back-to-back months this summer.

A Women for Biden fundraiser, Harris’ first solo fundraising event as the vice presidential nominee, is already at capacity for $250,000-level tickets, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO. Biden and Harris appeared together for their first fundraiser last week, drawing over 40,000 attendees and nearly $10 million in cash from more than 200,000 contributors.

“It’s been Joe, Joe, Joe or his surrogates for weeks, and now they’ve got a new person to roll out and they’re taking full advantage of it,” said one Democratic donor. “She’s the one who everyone wants right now, but it’s also the logical time for Joe to pull back to prepare for debates, too.”

During the coronavirus pandemic, as fundraising has converted to a virtual world, fundraisers are still figuring out how to recreate a sense of intimacy without in-person connection. But donors said Harris hasn’t skipped a beat despite moving her fundraising to Zoom, “where she greets people one-by-one, making it very intimate, recreating that sense of a personal connection,” Narasimhan said.

Some donors said they expect a steady crescendo in Harris’ fundraising events, as well as more direct donor engagement shifting to her.

Those donors who expect Harris to take a leading role with contributors said it matches the pair’s skill sets: Harris is well-practiced in donor management, while Biden, who struggled to raise money for his previous presidential bids, “would be the first to tell you that” fundraising “was not at the top of his priority list because Joe went home every night to see his kids,” said former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who served as the DNC’s chairman from 2001 to 2005. “But he’s put together a perfect ticket that’s going to maximize our ability to do the fundraising.”

“She’s been much more geared toward modern campaigning and fundraising, which requires the cultivation of the donor class,” said Ami Copeland, the former deputy national finance director during Obama’s 2008 campaign. “Biden, meanwhile, as a senator from Delaware, that’s not something you really need to do.”

Harris is “very good at cultivating those warm and fuzzy friendships with donors,” Teboe said. “She will be the more front-facing of the two with donors.”

Harris isn’t the only new surrogate on the fundraising circuit. Doug Emhoff, Harris’ husband, is also taking on solo fundraising events, like he did during the Democratic primary. On Thursday, Emhoff, who is taking a leave of absence from his legal firm, is headlining a fundraiser with musician James Taylor, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO. On Friday, the Democratic ticket-mates and their spouses will appear again together at a grassroots event, according to another invitation.

But the stakes for Harris’ role in the fundraising operation differ greatly than even when Biden joined Obama on the ticket, several donors said. Back in 2008, Biden wasn’t expected to run for higher office, while Harris backers see her as a rising leader in the party. Biden himself has regularly acknowledged that he sees himself as a “bridge” to the next generation of Democratic leaders.

“Donors weren’t investing in Obama thinking they’d also get Biden in 2016,” Copeland said. “I’m betting that everyone in Harris-land is thinking about 2024.”

Even though it’s early, donors are taking note — though they’ll only acknowledge it privately.

“There’s a dash among donors, who have ingratiated themselves to Biden, to now ingratiate themselves to Harris, which certainly wasn’t the case with Kaine in 2016 or Biden in 2008,” said one New York-based bundler. “People are getting their ducks in a row for 2024.”

The turnaround in fundraising capacity is a marked shift from the presidential primary, when Biden struggled to keep up with his Democratic rivals and Harris, too, saw her fundraising dry up in the back half of 2019, particularly among small-dollar givers.

Still, many of her high-dollar backers remained loyal, assembling a super PAC just hours before Harris ultimately withdrew from the presidential race. Now, those same backers are shelling out money anew.

“We have so much on the line in this election. There is so much on the line and it is certainly about, as Joe talks about, the soul of our nation,” said Harris at a recent grassroots fundraiser. “[And] I’m just thrilled to be with you Joe. I’m just thrilled.”

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