Joe Biden is locking down support from powerful New York donors who have spent the past year flirting with multiple candidates, setting him up for a major cash boost just as 2020 voting begins.
Biden’s campaign — sometimes with help from the candidate himself — has spent the last few weeks reaching out to big donors who have collectively raised tens of millions for past presidential campaigns and are not yet attached to 2020 rivals. The Biden camp, which suffered serious money problems in the fall, came to them with a message: The time is now to join up and back Biden to beat President Donald Trump, after the former vice president lasted the whole year as the Democratic polling frontrunner, despite frequent predictions that his campaign was about to collapse.
The message landed. And Biden’s campaign will cash in on those efforts in mid-February, when Biden will head to New York City for a pair of fundraisers hosted by a litany of Wall Street power players, many of whom previously helped Kamala Harris’ campaign or split their support among several candidates in 2019. Originally scheduled as one event, organizers had to split the Feb. 13 fundraising blowout in two because so many donors new to the Biden fold signed up to help.
Hosts for a cocktail-hour fundraiser will include financiers and former Harris supporters Blair Effron and Marc Lasry, both of whom were major donors to Hillary Clinton, as well as Jon Henes, a lawyer and Harris’ former finance chair, and Tom Nides, a Clinton donor and former State Department aide. Later that evening, another set of major donors will fete Biden, including former U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley, Blackstone president Jonathan Gray and PR executive Michael Kempner — another who was once a bundler for Harris, who dropped out of the 2020 race in December.
“In the last 30 days, I could see there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of people who either had been with other candidates who dropped out or, for one reason or another, see where the tide is going and have decided to jump on the bandwagon,” said Alan Patricof, a venture capitalist and bundler for Biden’s campaign.
Some of the more than two dozen people putting on the events are not formally endorsing Biden just yet. But they are certainly helping. And they’re part of a broader trend of Wall Street figures and other well-to-do donors moving in Biden’s direction, including Barack Obama’s former finance director, Rufus Gifford, who endorsed Biden this week.
While Biden’s online fundraising has picked up, it’s not at the level of his top Democratic rivals — which makes it all the more important to recruit new donors capable of giving maximum-level $2,800 donations. Biden raised $22.7 million in the last three months of 2019, slightly behind Pete Buttigieg and well behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose small-dollar donor army is unmatched in the primary.
The swing toward Biden among elite donors is taking place at a bustling moment in New York politics: former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his team recently held a series of meetings with donors in New York to ask for their support.
“People would be totally fine if Mike Bloomberg emerged as the nominee. But for that to happen, Joe Biden needs to collapse,” said one major New York donor who is helping Biden.
The 2020 shake-up that took place eight weeks ago — when Harris dropped out of the race and Bloomberg unexpectedly launched his own campaign — is still reverberating in New York. Harris had built perhaps the strongest base of high-dollar donors in the city, and most of them did not make plans to go to work for other candidates immediately after she left the race. Some, especially members of Harris’ African American donor base, haven’t decided who they will support.
But Biden has waged an assertive campaign to gain support from Harris’ former supporters, as well as those who had backed New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, two other candidates who dropped out in 2019.
Biden himself has recently called and sat down one-on-one with donors during visits to New York, which he has made roughly every other week for fundraising events even as voting draws close. The former vice president praised Harris during one New York City fundraiser on the day the California senator left the race in early December: “A really good woman just dropped out. And she is really smart. She is really competent,” Biden said.
Meanwhile, top Biden aide Steve Ricchetti met with more than 50 people, many of them banking and finance professionals, to urge them off the fence in early January. Days later, Biden campaign manager Greg Schultz left the campaign trail to meet with more than two dozen Biden-skeptical donors at the Manhattan law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
Schultz detailed the campaign’s path to victory, discussed Biden’s delegate path — and warned those assembled that Biden was the only candidate left in the race who could beat Trump in a general election.
Biden is not the only candidate trying to scoop up New York’s unaffiliated donors. Buttigieg has built up a base of donors in New York, and there is widespread curiosity about Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who recently nabbed the co-endorsement, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of the New York Times’ editorial page. And Bloomberg, a friend as well as a former mayor to many in the finance industry, has hired a team of finance professionals of his own to help him arrange meetings and court donors from coast to coast.
Bloomberg, who is self-financing his bid, is not interested in donors’ money. But he wants donors to publicly support and network for him as he tries to nab the nomination, according to multiple donors who have attended recent the recent meetings.
And half a dozen donors in New York interviewed by POLITICO professed fondness for the billionaire candidate — though few are prepared to go out on a limb to help his campaign, which they see as a long shot.
Fellow billionaire Tom Steyer is also making a new effort in New York. Steyer showed little interest in courting influencers there during the earlier stages of his campaign, preferring to spend his time talking to voters on the ground and self-fund a massive ad campaign. But Steyer recently borrowed a page from Bloomberg’s playbook and held a meeting with financial services heavyweights of his own in midtown Manhattan last week. Hosted by financier Robert Wolf, the event drew around 25 guests who came to meet Steyer and learn about his climate change plans.
But it’s Biden who is gaining the most steam right now, Wolf said.
“It certainly appears that Biden has benefitted the most from those who have left the race,” said Wolf, who has donated to several candidates.