Democratic donors torn as Biden campaign works to calm anxieties

Written by on July 3, 2024

U.S. President Joe Biden, right, and former U.S. President Donald Trump during the first presidential debate in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday, June 27, 2024. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

(WASHINGTON) — Democratic donors remain torn as the Biden campaign continues to try to calm worries from supporters and party members about the future of President Joe Biden’s reelection bid in the wake of Thursday’s debate performance.

On Monday evening, the Biden campaign held a call with more than 500 regional and national finance chairs — who raise money for the campaign and the Democratic Party — during which senior campaign advisers defended Biden’s health and gave assurances he could carry on with his 2024 campaign.

The call took place amid continued questions about Biden’s ability to fight off former President Donald Trump, especially as the president attempts to galvanize Democratic donors as he entered July with less cash on hand than the Trump campaign.

According to people on the call, senior campaign advisers, including Jen O’Malley Dillon, Quentin Fulks and Molly Murphy, led the conversation, acknowledging it was a bad debate for Biden but stressing he’s still the party’s nominee and that the base is excited.

The campaign advisers also noted that a few hundred campaign events for Biden took place around the country this past weekend and touted the fundraising haul since the debate, people who were on the call told ABC News, with the campaign and the Democratic Party raking in $33 million in the days since.

One source on the call told ABC News, “It was good, honest assessment – no surprising questions nor surprising answers but it was good for them to do.”

But skepticism from donors and fundraisers remains. The first question the campaign fielded on the call was about the 81-year-old president’s stamina, one person on the call told ABC News. Dillon responded, “Biden knows he has to show who he is,” but added, “At the end of the day the president has put out robust medical records,” the person said.

The campaign advisers mostly did not address what the campaign will do if polling indicates a significant reduction in support, people on the call said.

One person on the call told ABC News that he felt there was a lack of responsibility from the campaign on what happened on the debate stage last week, and that people were looking for someone to take on responsibility. Without that, the person said he doesn’t believe Biden’s fundraising can return to normal.

Soon after Thursday night’s debate, influential billionaire donor Reid Hoffman came out in support of Biden in an email to his donor network explaining why others should do so as well.

While acknowledging that Biden’s debate performance “delivered a blow to the mood among donors and organizers,” Hoffman said the debate “revealed nothing new” and that “If we’re musing on Biden’s flaws, we’re not organizing around Trump’s flaws. That’s bad for us and good for them.”

“Being a good President has little to do with being a good debater,” Hoffman wrote.

Donors across the country are divided on how the Democratic Party should move forward, some doubling down on support for Biden with others expressing skepticism.

Major Democratic donor and fundraiser Susie Buell praised Biden as a “great president” and said “he’s a man full of wisdom.”

“If he has a good team around him and he’s still managing, he will be fine … He can do this though. We just have to be there for him,” Buell said.

Susie Buell’s husband and fellow longtime Democratic donor Mark Buell, speaking separately to ABC News, added he believes there’s “plenty of time” to put someone else as the Democratic Party’s nominee, saying the party needs to do a “risk assessment.”

Praising Biden as the “most accomplished” president since Franklin Roosevelt, Mark Buell — who at one point described the president as “diminished” –noted Biden is 81 years old and added, “we thought we’re ready for the next generation and that didn’t happen, and very few people had anything to say in that process because Biden opted to run, he has delegates and he’s home free.”

“It will be data driven to see what horse we’re going to ride to the finish line,” Mark Buell said.

Another Democratic donor, who spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely, was more critical: “They can bring him to do 20 more speeches. He can’t recover from this.”

Saying he would like to see California Gov. Gavin Newsom as Biden’s replacement, the donor said, “Someone needs to talk to Biden. Obama needs to talk to him. He’s been president two damn times. He can’t stay quiet.”

Some said they’re confused and conflicted — thoughts shifting as every hour passed as news cycles changed.

One California mega donor who had said earlier last weekend, “I am digesting it all. This is tough,” later said: “I really think he should step aside otherwise we lose.”

“I don’t think last night is recoverable. But probably he can’t be convinced so nothing will change and we will keep fighting to the end. A lot can happen between now and Nov maybe we catch a lucky break,” the donor continued.

Ajay Bhutoria, another Democratic donor, maintained it’s a choice between Biden and Trump, saying he tells people, “It was just one night and a president with a cold and sore throat is better than a convicted felon … Compare the presidencies of the two candidates and not just a one night debate.”

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