Joe Biden has started recruiting top donors for his PAC’s finance committee — but some of them are resisting signing on, wary that he’ll decide again not to pull the trigger on a presidential bid and that their money might be better spent elsewhere.
They want to see clear moves that his own campaign is underway before writing him more checks. That’s not coming anytime soon: though Biden has mapped out ambitious plans to help Democrats running in this year’s midterms, he hasn’t set a timeline for deciding on a 2020 bid, let alone decided to run, according to four people who’ve spoken with him.
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“People aren’t sure, if they were looking to develop that relationship [with Biden], where their efforts are best laid,” said one Biden-friendly donor who’s been pitched to give to the former vice president’s foundation and PAC as well as an array of Democratic candidates running this year.
The questions about Biden’s political plans continue as he and his staff, in consultation with Democratic leaders in Washington and aides to Barack Obama, have begun making plans for the next nine months that will likely make the former vice president the most active high-profile Democratic surrogate on the trail.
Requests have been pouring in from candidates for governor, Senate, House, state attorney general, state legislature and even secretary of state, and his staff is vetting them all.
Already, he did a robocall for three Nevada state senators facing a recall and endorsed the candidate for Florida statehouse Democrats are hoping will win a special election next week, and he’s in discussions about doing a fundraiser for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the nexus for statehouse campaigns. They’ve even fielded a speaking request from the High School Democrats of America.
In the two months before the election, Biden intends to campaign nearly nonstop around the country.
Next up is an expected campaign stop for Conor Lamb in the special election for a House seat in southwestern Pennsylvania. Biden will also likely put his email list and other mechanics into action on Lamb’s behalf.
“He sees that he is a trusted voice and that he has the ability to draw attention to important bases and give credibility to candidates that are running,” said Michèle Taylor, a former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee’s finance committee who is leading some of the donor outreach. “It’s less him talking about the future and more people talking to him about it. … What Biden is hearing, and I know what I’m hearing, is we need him to be focused on right now.”
Biden’s midterm appeal is both as the best-known Democrat readily available — Obama is limiting his political appearances, and Bill and Hillary Clinton are neither as desired nor as ready to campaign — and as a politician who hits exactly the kind of voters Democrats need to win.
“Joe has such a high likability factor,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Though Manchin hasn’t asked Biden to campaign for him, he said the former VP might be the one national Democrat who isn’t toxic in West Virginia.
Biden is scheduled to address House Democrats on Wednesday at their annual retreat, making the case why Democrats should be optimistic about the state of the party and how they can win in November.
Meanwhile, Biden is preparing for an active fundraising push for his American Possibilities PAC through a series of events around the country, beginning Feb. 14 with a “breakfast and conversation” in New York City, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO. Invited donors were told the session will be “limited to 20 people,” but that hasn’t proved overly enticing to all who were asked.
Biden’s PAC raised nearly half a million dollars last year without any dedicated time on the calendar for fundraising. The goal is now much higher.
Biden “looks forward to campaigning for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot who embrace those values and who are committed to protecting and growing the middle class,” said Greg Schultz, executive director of American Possibilities.
Biden is finishing a book tour that’s already gone months past the original schedule, including another stop in Washington on Tuesday night. With the book focused on the illness and death of his son, Beau, the vice president’s staff has been reluctant to color the tour by scheduling many political events around it, and is aware that his own capacity for switching emotional gears is limited.
But as the tour wraps up in the coming weeks, Biden will make that switch. Ever a devotee of the Senate, he’ll start with a period of fundraising for incumbent Senate Democrats. He’s already appeared for Florida’s Bill Nelson and is scheduled to do events in the coming weeks for Indiana’s Joe Donnelly and for the Democratic Party in Montana, where Jon Tester is running for reelection.
Stops for Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin and North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, among others, are expected soon.
“He’s my personal friend, has been one of my best friends in the Senate,” Nelson said.
The next phase, in the early spring, is expected to include endorsements, including some that may happen in person, for House candidates to whom Biden has personal connections, either through their résumés or working with him in the administration. That’s a potentially sizable group with four dozen Obama alumni running for office this year.
Biden tends to put a premium on politicians who remind him of his son Beau, either through knowing him personally or working with him when he was Delaware attorney general, or through being veterans or working in law enforcement themselves.
By late spring, Biden will do a wider round of endorsements, which may include picking favorites in primaries. This is expected to follow several sessions his staff will set up for him in Washington with candidates seeking his backing so that the vice president can get to know them. As he continues to promote funding and collaboration for cancer research, those who’ve prioritized scientific investment are expected to be in contention.
Some of this will be done remotely, but much will be done as he tacks on events to stops he makes promoting cancer research and elsewhere.
Many leading Democrats, including Obama alumni, doubt that he will run in the end. He’ll be 78 in 2020 in a party that has been trying to turn to fresh faces and new ideas. He’s enjoying spending time setting up his foundation and being with his grandchildren. And through 40 years of speculated and actual runs, Biden has always struggled to put together a strong campaign.
“If anyone anticipated in February 2018 he’d make a decision on running for president in 2020, then you don’t know Joe Biden,” said one donor who is friendly with Biden.
Those pegging their support to whether he’ll run for president don’t get how he works, a person close to Biden said.
“If they want to help the VP help candidates in 2018, or think he is a good voice to have out there right now, then the PAC is a good thing for them to be involved with,” the person said.