WASHINGTON — Some of the biggest Democratic donors gathered in Washington on Friday night for a rare opportunity: face time with President Joe Biden.
The event, hosted by the Democratic National Committee, offered the Biden campaign a chance to show the president in action as Democrats eye a long race and court the deep-pocketed donors who'll be needed to power it.
Meeting with more than 150 donors at the Salamander Hotel, Biden and first lady Jill Biden took pictures and chatted with supporters during a cocktail hour alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff. Attendees later dined on roasted beetroot salad, prime New York strip loin with tiger shrimp and orange mousse cake.
“There was kind of confidence in the air” among the Democrats “that I’m not sure you saw in 2020,” said a source in attendance, who described Harris as being in a good mood — there was “a hop in her step.”
Biden, who spent about two hours at the event, thanked his audience for their past contributions and emphasized the stakes for 2024 as he prepares for a potential rematch against former President Donald Trump.
“You raised significant amounts of money to allow us to compete” in 2020 and helped beat back the “red wave” in 2022, he said.
“We’re going to do it again in 2024 together," Biden said. “We carry a heavy responsibility, but also we have an extraordinary opportunity, an extraordinary opportunity to build a future we want for our children and our grandchildren — an extraordinary opportunity to meet the commitment I made in 2020. And we will restore the soul of this nation."
His remarks appeared to resonate with the wealthy crowd, who gave him a standing ovation.
Alan Kessler, a longtime Democratic fundraiser from Philadelphia who attended, said: “People were happy tonight. They were happy that the president finally announced, and now we get on with business.”
Asked whether he believed Biden would raise enough money, Kessler said: “There’s nothing better for good fundraising than having Donald Trump on the other side.”
While Biden didn’t mention Trump, he did call “those MAGA Republicans" a "real problem."
"This is not your father’s Republican Party," he said. "But in a bizarre way, all we got to do is point out, in many cases, comparison with what these guys want to do. Look what they just introduced, what they just passed in the House."
Biden has billed 2024 as a choice between “more rights or fewer,” warning of “MAGA extremists lining up” to cut the social safety net. Biden said he wants to finish the job for the American people and will fight for the nation at a critical juncture.
But he faces obstacles, including worries about the economy and lukewarm enthusiasm among voters.
An NBC News poll released this month found that 70% of Americans, including 51% of Democrats, said Biden shouldn't run for president again. Nearly half of those who said Biden, 80, shouldn't run respondents cited his age as a top concern.
Donors have been worried about his age as well. NBC News reported in November that top fundraisers had told Biden aides that donors were questioning whether he's capable of running again, which left them hesitant to cut checks.
Some of the reservations seemed to fall away as Biden made his campaign official this week and Democratic mega-donors began to rally behind him.
Jeffrey Katzenberg, a longtime Democratic donor and a co-chair of Biden’s 2024 campaign who attended Friday's speech, told CNBC that he believes Biden will raise even more this time around.
Still, Biden’s campaign didn’t release early fundraising numbers, which typically are an indicator of enthusiasm. It did, however, launch a seven-figure ad campaign in battleground states to double down on its opening message that MAGA Republicans are attacking America's freedom.
Harris has also been out pushing the Biden agenda, having recently delivered remarks about abortion rights in a speech at Howard University. She talked about her work on abortion issues, insulin and broadband access in her remarks Friday.
A Biden campaign official emphasized the party’s record fundraising in the 2022 midterms and described Harris as an asset whose addition to the ticket in 2020 yielded a $26 million haul in 24 hours and 150,000 first-time donors after a text campaign.
Other high-profile Democrats at the donor event Friday were California Gov. Gavin Newsom, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, White House chief of staff Jeff Zients, deputy chief of staff and 2020 campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon and Democratic National Committee chair Jaime Harrison.
“There was a real electricity in the room, because this was the first time people were in the same room in [several] years,” said the source in attendance, alluding to the fading impact of the coronavirus pandemic, which had forced many events in the 2020 election cycle to be held virtually.
Starting the fundraising process in April gives Biden's backers time to conduct broad outreach. On Saturday, Biden’s top aides are set to convene donors for strategy briefings.