Biden Heads to California to Add to His $42 Million Haul in January

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President Biden arrived in California on Tuesday for a series of high-dollar campaign fund-raisers in some of the wealthiest and most heavily Democratic parts of the country as he seeks to add to the $42 million he raised for his re-election campaign in January.

Mr. Biden’s ability to raise cash — his campaign reported having $130 million in the bank over the weekend — has been a bright spot amid bleak polling numbers that show his popularity has sunk to near the lowest point in his presidency.

Campaign advisers say the polling numbers will rebound as the president’s team increasingly contrasts Mr. Biden’s record with that of former President Donald J. Trump, the expected Republican nominee. The campaign’s success in raising money will determine how effectively the president can deliver that message to voters.

In a statement released over the weekend, a spokesman for the Biden campaign said that more than 422,000 donors gave money in January, and that nearly 97 percent of the donations since Mr. Biden announced his candidacy had been under $200 each.

“We are particularly proud that January shattered our grass-roots fund-raising record for a third straight month,” said the spokesman, T.J. Ducklo. “This haul will go directly to reaching the voters who will decide this election.”

But the president’s three-day trip to California is not intended to seek support from the small-dollar donors. He is scheduled to hold only one public campaign event during his three days in the state.

Instead, Mr. Biden will headline several private “campaign receptions” in Santa Monica, San Francisco and Mountain View — venues that will attract the richest members of the Democratic establishments in Hollywood and Silicon Valley.

The events for the campaign’s wealthy supporters in California had been put on hold during the lengthy strikes by the writers’ and actors’ unions in Hollywood. But now, Mr. Biden is returning to reach into their pockets.

Allocating time for fund-raising can be difficult for any president, but Mr. Biden is facing a series of crises in Europe and the Middle East that have dominated much of his time for the last several months.

The fact that the White House has carved out the time for a West Coast swing devoted almost entirely to raising money underscores the need for the campaign to win the race against Republicans and Mr. Trump ahead of the political conventions this summer and the final election push in the fall.

Mr. Biden’s fund-raising haul came after Mr. Trump logged multiple primary victories, making it clearer to voters that he was on a path to become the Republican nominee.

Mr. Trump has not announced his most recent fund-raising numbers, but his campaign last year reported surging support after the former president’s court appearances on the 91 criminal charges he faces. Mr. Trump has called the prosecutions politically motivated and has aggressively sought to use that allegation to raise money for his campaign.

At the end of December, Mr. Trump’s campaign reported having about $33 million on hand, according to filings to the Federal Election Commission at the time. But Mr. Trump appears to be winning the battle for small-dollar donors, which are often seen as a measure of how energetic a candidate’s supporters are.

In 2023, about 668,000 donors gave less than $200 to Mr. Trump, compared with 564,000 for Mr. Biden, according to an analysis of election commission data by The New York Times. Over the weekend, Mr. Biden’s campaign said the latest numbers show that 97 percent of its contributions were under $200 since the president announced his re-election bid.

The competition for donations between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump is viewed by many Democrats as a key to preventing the former president from regaining the Oval Office.

“The profound fear of a Trump return to power has been supercharged by his ever-steepening descent into authoritarianism, racism and general lunacy,” said Matt Bennett, the executive vice president for public affairs at Third Way, a centrist Democratic advocacy group.

Still, while Democrats say it is essential for the president to raise enough money to combat Mr. Trump, the fund-raising is also important if Mr. Biden wants to ease concerns about him from within his own party.

Mr. Biden faced questions about his age as he departed the White House for California. Asked if his West Coast trip was about having a “Plan B” as a Democratic presidential nominee and whether Gov. Gavin Newsom of California should be ready, Mr. Biden jokingly asked if that reporter was ready to be president.

Mr. Bennett said the pace of fund-raising was essential given the widespread concern among voters about Mr. Biden’s age.

“I don’t think that alarm about the polls or the president’s age is simply the usual Democratic bed-wetting,” Mr. Bennett said. “There is no question that Biden must run as if he’s behind, because he is.”

David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to former President Barack Obama, said Mr. Biden’s low approval ratings may actually be contributing to his ability to haul cash.

“They believe that with Trump on the other side, this truly is a watershed battle,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Biden is the horse and he has to win.”

Mr. Biden’s campaign advisers are also hopeful that more people will be motivated to donate to his campaign as they become aware of the president’s accomplishments during the past several years.

Stefanie Brown James, a founder of the Collective PAC, which aims to elect Black officials, said the most important part of the Biden campaign’s fund-raising announcement over the weekend was that most of its donations were under $200, “signaling a real grass-roots effort to keep Biden in office and Trump out of office.”

Ms. Brown questioned how the campaign would use the funding to “empower progressive organizations that are consistently doing the work on the ground to engage people of color and young people — the voting blocks the Democrats desperately need to engage and turn out to vote.”

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