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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Biden’s fundraisers bring protests, a few celebrities, and anxiety for 2024 election

Los Angeles, California —After President Biden was presented with a shiny gold membership card from the Carpenters’ union in Las Vegas in recognition of his pro-union bona fides, he darted off to Los Angeles last Friday to continue an eight-day fundraising swing — one that featured growing protests, the star power of a few celebrities and warnings about the future of democracy if former President Donald Trump is elected next year.

Since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, protesters have become a fixture at nearly every stop for the president across the country. They gather and call for a ceasefire in Gaza as Israel continues its forceful military response to the Oct. 7 attack by the militant group Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,200 Israelis, and the kidnapping of hundreds.

Outside Friday’s fundraiser at a sleek mansion in the Beverly Hills area, hundreds of protesters gathered in a nearby public park with signs and noisemakers. Protesters were seen chanting at some of the attendees, and according to several people who went to the fundraiser, the protests dissuaded some donors from attending.

The roar from the protesters could also be heard inside the event and attendees told CBS News the protesters’ presence was a topic of conversation as the donors mingled.

The two Hollywood gatherings this weekend were expected by some who were there to be very exclusive, drawing star power to financially support the sitting president and ultimately utilize the stars’ influence.

A few familiar faces were spotted by attendees — Lenny Kravitz, dressed in black and wearing his signature sunglasses, sang two songs and then was seen sans sunglasses chatting with the president. Producer Steven Spielberg smiled with guests for pictures.

But Spielberg’s fellow producer, Shonda Rhimes, who was listed as a fundraiser co-host, did not show up to the event, an attendee said. A representative for Rhimes confirmed to CBS News that the “Grey’s Anatomy” showrunner was unable to attend, but the representative added that “she remains a steadfast supporter of the reelection efforts for the Biden-Harris campaign.”

Separate from the president, first lady Jill Biden privately met this weekend at Chrissy Teigen’s house with other celebrities, including actors Kerry Washington and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, a person familiar with the meeting told CBS News, and other celebrities, like actor Jon Hamm, donated to the campaign this weekend but did not attend the presidential events.

Since launching his reelection campaign in April, Mr. Biden has attended at least 36 fundraisers across the country, according to a tally by CBS News, generating sizable donation hauls in the second and third quarters of this year — $72 million and $71 million, respectively — but some top donors have told CBS News they think there’s money being left on the table.

Mr. Biden’s fundraising after his reelection campaign launch was lower than the quarter when former President Obama stood up his reelection campaign in 2011 and drew about $13 million dollars more than Mr. Biden at the same point in the reelection campaign.

Several major donors have told CBS News the outreach to donors and “bundlers” who sought donations from American elites in 2020 has been lacking for the past three years.

“You can’t talk to someone for three years and now say, ‘Hey, this is the election of our lifetime — give,'” one of these people said. “Now it’s ‘go time’ and the campaign is like, ‘where is everybody at?’ Well, you haven’t talked to them.”

The presidential photo line at Friday’s fundraiser was an example of this apparent lack of top donor engagement, as guests could pledge $25,000 in exchange for a picture with the president. “There wasn’t that many people in the photo line — it was unusual because everyone wants a photo with the sitting president,” another donor said.

A Biden campaign spokesperson said, “Our consistent and historic fundraising numbers since launch — made possible by strong enthusiasm from small-dollar donors and an aggressive fundraising schedule from our principals across the country — speak for themselves.”

The Biden campaign has managed to sway some critics, including Rick Caruso, the Democratic billionaire developer who ran against Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass last year and at the time made statements critical of the president and his stewardship of the economy. But now, he told CBS News, his support for Mr. Biden is “very simple.”

“It’s all about who I believe is going to be the best for the country. I believe that’s Joe Biden,” Caruso said, “The other choice I think is dangerous. We can’t go down that road again. I’m going to do everything I can and lean in and help Biden win.”

The high stakes of the 2024 election were highlighted this weekend in California by the president, who called Trump the “greatest threat” to democracy. The first lady in a speech evoked the stinging memory of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss to Trump, too, saying, “Remember how you woke up and you said to yourself, ‘My God, what just happened?’ We can’t let that happen again.”

If these alarms rung by the president and first lady were not enough, one person said White House and campaign officials were also telling fundraiser attendees this week the 2024 election is “going to be very, very close,” and so, the Biden campaign plans to highlight a starker contrast between Mr. Biden and Trump on a range of issues, from abortion rights to foreign policy.

It is these differences that the Biden campaign and local Democratic activists like Margy Feldman in Henderson, Nevada, are relying on to keep frustrated voters from staying home on Election Day.

“I believe in the end, whether [Democrats are] mad at Joe Biden, they are going to be more mad at Donald Trump,” Feldman told CBS News. “Even if they have to hold their nose — they’re going to support Joe Biden.”

Ed O’Keefe contributed reporting.

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