Biden huddles with top donors as 2024 effort kicks off

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden thanked some of his top donors Friday night as he launches a reelection campaign that is expected to need to raise well over $1 billion to secure his second term.

“It’s because of you, I’m standing here," Biden said in the ballroom of a Washington hotel. "And it’s because of you, we’re going to win this time around.”

The weekend summit is not a fundraiser and it was not clear how many of the attendees had yet cut checks to Biden’s campaign. Rather, it is billed as a strategy session for about 150 high-dollar donors and fundraisers who will tap their networks to help fund Biden’s campaign over the next 18 months.

Also in attendance were some of the Democratic Party's most high-profile governors — Gavin Newsom of California, Wes Moore of Maryland and Phil Murphy of New Jersey — and other lawmakers who are close with the president.

“We’re still in a battle for the soul of this country," Biden said, echoing his campaign message from 2020, when he defeated President Donald Trump. A rematch is possible next year, with Trump leading in the polls for the Republican presidential nomination.

In addition to a Friday evening dinner, top Biden advisers and his campaign co-chairs will brief attendees Saturday on the campaign's strategy ahead of the 2024 race to “fund winning campaigns from the top of the ticket on down," the campaign said.

“Now that he’s thrown his hat back into the ring, the dam has burst and people are super excited and on board,” said Jeffrey Katzenberg, a co-chair of Biden’s campaign. “We’re at the beginning of the beginning. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. And we are in an enviable position in that we’re singularly focused on running and winning in November 2024 and all of our efforts and resources are really focused on that.”

The weekend summit marks the first official in-person political event for Biden since declaring his candidacy Tuesday. The campaign is slowly beginning to take shape out of spare office space at the Democratic National Committee before it moves to Wilmington, Delaware, the president's hometown, said a person familiar with the matter who spoke anonymously in order to discuss internal dynamics. And campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez has not started yet because she is still transitioning out of her job as White House director of intergovernmental affairs.

On Thursday night Biden held a virtual call with grassroots supporters from the White House residence, and his campaign has blasted out dozens of fundraising emails to supporters, whose smaller checks, the campaign says, are just as important as big donors. In the 2022 midterm cycle, grassroots donors made up more than 60% of the DNC's fundraising.

“One of the hallmarks of Joe Biden is that he’s always enjoyed grassroots support and it has always been an essential ingredient (of his campaigns)," said Katzenberg. "To focus too much attention on the high end and the bundlers would be a mistake.”

In his remarks Friday night, Biden touched on the themes that are undergirding his campaign. He touted legislation to fight climate change and limit the cost of prescription drugs, and he warned about the dangers of “MAGA Republicans.”

“We need you," Biden told his donors. "Our democracy needs you. Because it’s about our freedoms.”

A person familiar with the event who was unauthorized to speak about it publicly said invitees all bundled at least $1 million for Biden’s 2020 campaign. Invitations for the event went out only late last week, so some donors meeting that description were not expected to make it because of scheduling conflicts.

Some donors have groused about inconsistent outreach from Biden's White House, and the weekend summit was an effort to smooth over tensions as the reelect gets underway.

Biden's campaign has not reported how much it has raised since he formally declared his candidacy Tuesday morning, but Katzenberg said he is “absolutely confident” the campaign will be able to top the nearly $1.1 billion raised for Biden's 2020 effort.


AP writer Brian Slodysko contributed.