Barack Obama made his first campaign appearance alongside Joe Biden since endorsing him for president in April, helping raise more than $11m while warning Democrats against being “complacent or smug” about the presidential race.
The virtual fundraiser collected $7.6m from 175,000 grassroots contributors according to the Biden campaign. The former president and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also hosted a private online portion for high-dollar donors, which was not open to reporters, and brought in more than $3.4m.
It was the most money raised by a single event by the former vice-president so far during his presidential campaign, and came on the heels of the Democratic party and Biden’s campaign out-raising Donald Trump in May for the first time.
At the event, however, Obama urged viewers to learn the lessons from 2016 and not take the election for granted. Referencing what he called a “great awakening” among younger Americans pushing for reforms, Obama said that “just because this energy is out there does not mean that it assures our victory and it does not mean that it gets channeled in a way that results in real change.”
“There’s a backlash, that is fierce, against change,” Obama added.
The Trump campaign has so far been ahead in overall fundraising, with $265m in cash at the end of May. Trump’s Dallas fundraiser earlier this month raised north of $10m for the campaign, Republican National Committee and the Trump Victory Fund. Biden and the Democrats had a combined $122m, Reuters reported, though the former vice-president’s fundraising efforts appear to have picked up in recent weeks.
The fundraiser marked Obama’s official return to the presidential campaign trail and underscored his unmatched popularity within the Democratic party.
Tuesday’s event was a kickoff of what Obama’s team says will likely be a busy schedule heading into the fall, as he looks to help elect not just Biden but Democrats running for House and Senate. And his comments suggest Democrats are taking very seriously the possibility that their base could grow too comfortable this fall, with a number of state and nationwide surveys showing Biden with significant, often double-digit leads over Trump.
Democrats are hoping Obama’s appeal, especially among Black and younger voters, can help boost energy for Biden.
“There’s two groups of voters that Biden needs to move,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the former White House communications director. “You have the 4 million Obama 2012 voters that sat out in ’16, Obama obviously has cache with them. And you have to persuade some number of voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and either Trump or a third-party candidate in 2016, and Obama obviously is very, very high-performing with those as well.”
Indeed, during Tuesday night’s fundraiser, Obama made a frequent pitch directly to young voters, telling them he was “hopeful” about the new energy he’s seen but warning them not to get discouraged with a political process he said “is always going to be slower” and “less satisfactory” than engaging with a social movement through public demonstrations.
Obama endorsed Biden with a video message in April, but kept an otherwise low profile throughout the primary and largely avoided wading into national politics. In recent weeks, however, he’s re-emerged publicly to speak out on policing and the civil unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Some Democrats say that, in the wake of Floyd’s killing, Obama’s voice as an advocate for Biden and a leader for the party is needed.
“Biden doesn’t have the strongest record on criminal justice reform so having Obama there is helpful in reinforcing that issue,” said Ben Tulchin, who polled for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
“Given what’s going on with criminal justice reform and Black Lives Matter, having the first African American president out there publicly backing Biden is extremely helpful.”