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‘Take the money and run’: Obama, Clinton to raise campaign cash for Biden at A-list NYC event

President should spend more time in swing states, GOP strategist says

Former President Bill Clinton, former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now-President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama at the funeral service for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in Baltimore on Oct. 25, 2019.
Former President Bill Clinton, former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, now-President Joe Biden and former President Barack Obama at the funeral service for Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in Baltimore on Oct. 25, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

ANALYSIS — Celebrities Mindy Kaling, Stephen Colbert, Queen Latifah and Lizzo will attend a pricey Radio City Music Hall function Thursday night. Actor Lea Michele and the multitalented Ben Platt also will be there in New York.

But the main draw will be a rarity in American culture and politics: Three of the six living men who have been president will headline the event, a pricey fundraiser for President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign.

Democratic politicians have been mocked by Republicans for years about their fascination with Hollywood celebrities — and their drive to secure campaign cash from them. But team Biden has done the opposite regarding this high-profile event, with the president’s top press aide on Wednesday touting Biden being joined by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, both former Democratic presidents.

“President Obama and President Clinton strongly support President Biden’s leadership and, obviously, his agenda. All three … agree overwhelmingly on the issues that this president has been fighting for for the past three years,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters.

“There are, of course, many conservative leaders in the country who oppose the dark vision put forward by extreme Republican officials that would drag us into the past with trickle-down … tax giveaways to the rich, cuts to Medicare and Social Security, radical abortion bans, and attacks on the rule of law,” she added, seeking to exploit divisions among Republicans that lay under the surface. “That is not these three presidents. So, we understand the importance of the three of them being together.”

Democratic and Republican strategists called such high-profile Big Apple fundraisers common for the nominees of both political parties — but that does not mean an automatic polling bump for Biden, or that the Donald Trump campaign and Republican National Committee won’t seek to take advantage.

“This is part of the Biden team’s heretofore unsuccessful efforts to be seen as a continuation of the Obama political powerhouse. President Biden wants to share the stage with former President Obama, who is more popular across the Democratic Party,” said Aaron Cutler, a former senior leadership staffer for then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in an email.

“But, as well-liked as Mr. Obama remains, that’s not something he can just transfer to Mr. Biden, no matter how many Annie Leibovitz photos they share together,” he added.

Biden campaign officials in recent weeks have talked up the president’s massive cash-on-hand advantage over Trump, who has used some of his campaign dollars to cover his mounting legal bills. One Democratic strategist said Biden should enthusiastically rake in the Hollywood funds on Thursday night.

“The president should take the money and run. Any downside to the event will evaporate in the blizzard of the media coverage of Trump’s legal problems in New York. The only problem with the fundraiser is the absence of Taylor Swift,” said strategist Brad Bannon.

“There’s much for Joe Biden and Democrats to gain. The presence of a respected ex-president, Barack Obama, offers a vivid contrast to Biden’s opponent, the failed former president, Donald Trump,” he added. “The money raised puts more pressure on cash-starved Republicans.”

Still, the glitzy event might not sell well among financially struggling independent voters in the handful of battleground states expected to decide the election.

“President Biden’s campaign will raise a massive amount of money on Thursday night, but the optics create political liabilities, and I expect the RNC and the Trump campaign to take advantage of that,” Cutler said. “Look for digital ads and messaging memos calling the president out of touch for hobnobbing with the rich and famous in NY, while emergency responders are still searching for bodies beneath a collapsed bridge in Baltimore.

“Republican operatives will point out that Mr. Biden is palling around with millionaires and billionaires in New York,” he added, “while inflation remains high, and the average American family is struggling to pay for gas and groceries and mortgage rates are still extremely high.”

Tickets for the Democrats’ Radio City extravaganza reportedly start at $225, a bargain compared to most presidential fundraisers. But getting a picture with the three commanders in chief will cost $100,000, with entry into exclusive receptions running between $250,000 and $500,000, according to The Associated Press.

‘High-priced lawyers’

The star-studded event is something of a culmination of several weeks that have seen Biden campaigning in the Rust Belt, Southwest and potential battleground North Carolina.

Meantime, Trump has held few public events in recent weeks, mostly opting to sound off in friendly media interviews, on his social media platform and during rants after court appearances — even boasting about spending part of last weekend allegedly again winning one of his golf club’s member tournaments.

“The trials and tribulations of Donald Trump come to a head next week when he defends himself in the Stormy Daniels porn star hush money case,” Bannon said. “Meanwhile, the president hits the campaign trail with an eye on electoral voters while Trump targets jurors. While Joe Biden raises campaign cash to reach voters, The Donald spends Republican money on high-priced lawyers.”

Still, while acknowledging both presumptive presidential nominees must hold big-dollar events like the one at Radio City, Cutler said the rich and famous will not determine whether Biden wins a second term.

“If you look at the electoral map, and current polling across swing states, Mr. Biden would be smart to spend more time in Michigan and Ohio,” he said. “Secretary [Hillary] Clinton didn’t spend enough time in Wisconsin and Michigan in 2016,” he added, a reference to Clinton losing those two states — and that election to Trump.

The same goes for Trump, who has just one campaign event on his public schedule, an April 4 rally in swing state Wisconsin’s Green Bay. Democratic officials have noticed the typically energetic 45th president’s recent light campaign load.

Trump “spent the weekend golfing, the morning comparing himself to Jesus, and the afternoon lying about having money he definitely doesn’t have,” Biden campaign spokesman James Singer said in a scathing Monday statement. “His campaign can’t raise money, he is uninterested in campaigning outside his country club, and every time he opens his mouth, he pushes moderate and suburban voters away with his dangerous agenda. America deserves better than a feeble, confused, and tired Donald Trump.”

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