Biden hits fundraising trail in show of strength after dismal debate performance

U.S. President Joe Biden campaigns in Raleigh

By Steve Holland and Jarrett Renshaw

EAST HAMPTON, NY (Reuters) -President Joe Biden embarked on a series of fundraising events across two states on Saturday as he works to stamp out a crisis of confidence in his re-election campaign following a feeble debate performance that dismayed his fellow Democrats.

The events are being held as many nervous Democratic donors are lamenting Biden’s weak showing against Republican rival Donald Trump on Thursday night and wondering what, if anything, they could do to change the course of the race, according to interviews with more than a dozen Democratic fundraisers.

Biden and First Lady Jill Biden visited the upscale New York beach enclave known as the Hamptons for a campaign fundraiser hosted by hedge-fund billionaire Barry Rosentein. Later in the day, he will travel to New Jersey for a fundraiser hosted by wealthy New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, a Democrat.

“I understand the concern about the debate. I didn’t have a great night," Biden told the room of about 100 supporters gathered in the Hamptons. “The point is I didn’t have a great night, but neither did Trump.”

He added, "I promise you we're going to win this election."

Another hedge-fund founder, Eric Mindich, and his Tony Award-winning producer wife Stacey, celebrity couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, and actor Michael J. Fox were all listed as members of the host committee at the New York event, according to an invitation seen by Reuters.

Biden told a rally in North Carolina on Friday he intended to defeat Republican rival Donald Trump in the November presidential election, giving no sign he would heed calls from Democrats who want him to drop out of the race. The race is very close, according to polls, and will likely come down to voters in a few battleground states.

Biden's verbal stumbles and occasionally meandering responses during the debate heightened voter concerns that the 81-year-old might not be fit to serve another four-year term.

Trump, meanwhile, unleashed a barrage of criticisms, many of which were well-worn falsehoods he has long repeated, including claims that migrants have carried out a crime wave, that Democrats support infanticide, and that he actually won the 2020 election.

The Biden campaign on Saturday boasted it had raised more than $27 million between debate day through Friday evening, but questions remain about whether the debate performance will hurt fundraising, at least in the short term. The donor class is being closely watched for signs of whether he can ride out the doubts.

Biden held a $100 million advantage over Trump just a couple of months ago, but the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee entered June with $212 million in the bank, compared with $235 million for the Trump operation and the Republican National Committee.

Many top donors called political advisers in recent days to inquire about little-known rules under which Biden might be removed from the ticket against his will and replaced at or before the Democratic National Convention in August, according to two people who fielded the inquiries.

Some donors were actively trying to reach Jill Biden, the first lady, who in turn could persuade her husband not to run, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Reid Hoffman, a co-founder of LinkedIn and one of the Democratic Party’s most influential donors, wrote in an email to friends on Friday evening that he had been inundated.

“I got a lot of emails in the last 24 hours asking whether there should be a public campaign to pressure President Biden to step aside after his (very) bad debate performance last night,” he wrote in the email, which was seen by Reuters. “It certainly delivered a blow to the mood among donors and organizers.”

He said it was up to Biden and his family to make a decision, adding, “If anything, a public effort might compel the Bidens to try to prove the doubters wrong.”

One major fundraiser for the Biden campaign said some donors were learning fast how little influence they have in this situation.

“There are a lot of people who think they are more important than they actually are,” the fundraiser said.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose; Editing by Daniel Wallis)