Democratic donors are increasingly expressing frustration with Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, saying he’s failed to make a clear rational for why he’s running for the White House.
Donors complain that a string of verbal gaffes and inconsistent debate performances have contributed to a sense of worry about the strength of his candidacy.
There is also some dissatisfaction with how the Biden camp has responded to a new series of attacks from President Trump, who has seen his own calls for Ukraine to investigate the former vice president turn into the impetus for an impeachment inquiry in the House.
“Look, let’s be honest. He’s a weak front-runner,” one major donor said.
Biden had a disappointing third-quarter fundraising showing, raising just $15.2 million compared to $24.6 million for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), $25.3 million for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and $19.1 million for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
The dismal numbers have added to a sense that the former vice president’s campaign is on the decline while Warren’s, in particular, is on the rise.
“A lot of us are really concerned,” another Democratic bundler said. “We think Biden is the strongest out of the lot, but he hasn’t exactly shown that he can play the part yet.”
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said Biden’s poor numbers suggest donors lack confidence in his campaign.
“The type of big donors that might give to Joe Biden only invest in sure things,” he said. “Biden’s nomination looked like a sure thing back in the spring when he got into the race with a 25 percent lead, so he raised a lot of money. Now his nomination is a crapshoot after flubs on the campaign trail, poor debate performances and the big surge by Elizabeth Warren.”
“Big money people who might favor Biden are investors, not gamblers or zealots, so the money is drying up,” Bannon concluded.
Warren and Sanders have both gobbled up small-dollar donors at a rate the Biden camp hasn’t been able to contend with, putting more pressure on the former vice president’s campaign to win support from big donors.
“A candidate like Sanders can lag in the polls and still raise a lot of money because he has a large number of fervent and committed followers who will keep on giving hell and high water,” Bannon said. “Biden doesn’t have that kind of donor base.”
Biden has sought to bolster his campaign, partly by using the attacks from Trump as an argument for people to support his campaign.
“The real story of the attacks on Joe Biden is that every Democrat is going to be victimized the same way,” said Robert Zimmerman, a longtime Democratic donor who said he will be sending Biden a donation in response to the Trump attacks.
“I, for one, will be sending a donation out of respect for him personally because we cannot let any of our candidates be slandered this way,” Zimmerman said.
One longtime Democratic bundler — who has not committed to a campaign — agreed that there was concern about Biden’s campaign particularly with Warren gaining momentum in recent weeks and overtaking him in polls. But the bundler also said Biden’s recent numbers are good enough to keep him competitive.
“He has never been viewed as a prolific fundraiser and hasn’t raised [money] in over a decade, unlike most of the candidates who have had an election,” the bundler said, adding that in general Biden has had “strong” back-to-back quarters.
“Five million keeps you going for this quarter, 10 million allows you to get ready for Iowa and New Hampshire and over 15 [million] allows you to start playing in Super Tuesday [states],” the bundler said.
But other donors aren’t entirely convinced.
“They’re just not where they should be,” the first donor said.
Biden’s campaign met with top fundraisers and donors over the weekend to brief them on strategy over PowerPoint presentations that “plotted the path forward for the former vice president,” according to The New York Times.
Denise Bauer, a donor and the former ambassador to Belgium, said it was a pivotal moment. “We need him to get the nomination because he’s the one who can win,” Bauer told the Times. “We are all going to try to raise every single dollar we can.”
One donor told The Hill that some are holding off giving to Biden because they need to see reason to have more confidence in his campaign.
“I think that’s why so many people are still in wait-and-see mode,” the donor said.