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Clooney, uncertainty exacerbate Biden donor gloom

By Amie Parnes - 7/10/24, 4:37 PM EDT

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Democratic donors say the uncertainty around the Biden campaign is contributing to a sense of doom around the president's key fundraising supporters. 

In interviews, top Democratic bundlers and donors continue to express trepidation about President Biden's chances of winning the presidential race and whether Biden’s decision to stay in the race is fracturing their party. 

They also say they worry about a negative Biden impact on downballot races and they don't see reason to be optimistic about any of the polling data released in recent days.

“Do I feel better? Not really,” said one Democratic donor. “People are nervous. There's this sense that it could all go to s‑‑‑ at any moment.”

“In terms of donors, no one wants to bet on a bad horse,” the donor said. “So people are holding back. That’s just the reality.”

The unease among big donors to Biden was crystalized in a New York Times op-ed published Wednesday by the actor and major Democratic donor George Clooney, who urged Biden to drop out of the race just weeks after he had held a $30 million fundraiser for the president.

Clooney wrote that the Biden who faltered against former President Trump on the debate stage is the same Biden he has recently seen — and that Biden has changed from just four years ago.

“I love Joe Biden. As a senator. As a vice president and as president. I consider him a friend, and I believe in him. Believe in his character. Believe in his morals. In the last four years, he’s won many of the battles he’s faced,” Clooney wrote.  

“But the one battle he cannot win is the fight against time. None of us can. It’s devastating to say it, but the Joe Biden I was with three weeks ago at the fund-raiser was not the Joe ‘big F-ing deal’ Biden of 2010. He wasn’t even the Joe Biden of 2020. He was the same man we all witnessed at the debate,” Clooney wrote. 

“Was he tired? Yes. A cold? Maybe. But our party leaders need to stop telling us that 51 million people didn’t see what we just saw. We’re all so terrified by the prospect of a second Trump term that we’ve opted to ignore every warning sign,” Clooney continued. 

A Biden campaign aide referred The Hill to the president’s previous comments where he vowed to continue his reelection bid. 

A longtime Democratic bundler predicted that Biden is likely to lose campaign donations now because of all the looming uncertainty about whether he stays in the race. 

“Why would people write checks for a teetering campaign? I think some acceleration will happen when there's a clearer sense of what is going on but we don't have that right now,” said the bundler, who added, “there's no real resolution here. We're just sputtering along and no one has any idea of how this will end.” 

The Biden campaign has sought to assuage donors’ worries in recent days, holding a number of calls to answer questions. 

On Monday, Biden himself joined a call with donors to push back on the narrative that he was dropping out of the race. 

“The Democratic Party has spoken. The Democratic nominee is me. And I’m going to be the nominee of the party,” he told the group of donors. 

“We can’t waste any more time being distracted. I have one job, and that’s to beat Donald Trump. … I’m absolutely certain I’m the best person to be able to do that,” he said. 

But donors said that much remained to be seen. “I think it’s still really up in the air,” a second bundler said. “You got a lot of people making statements today that are not that supportive … I think there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

As Biden hosts the NATO summit in Washington this week, his performance will be watched closely. On Thursday, he is expected to have his first press conference since 2022, and some Democrats said they were anxious to see the result. It was also announced on Wednesday that Biden would sit down with NBC News’s Lester Holt on Monday.

A second Democratic donor said the noise on whether Biden should withdraw “is louder than it was in the days after the debate” and the donor predicted that “you could have the dam break post NATO.” 

“Right now it feels hard to assess whether he’s exiting,” the donor said, adding that while the conversation dominates the headlines, “There is no backing off right now from Biden.”

Still the donor added, “Why is someone going to give money when they don’t even know if he’s the f‑‑‑ing candidate.” 

Alex Gangitano and Judy Kurtz contributed

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