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Joe Biden Scrambles For Presidential Campaign Money With High-Dollar Fundraisers After Jumping Into Race Late

PHILADELPHIA (CBS/CNN) -- Joe Biden is kicking off his presidential bid with a fundraiser in Philadelphia on Thursday night that includes some of the biggest names in Pennsylvania state politics. Sen. Bob Casey, former Gov. Ed Rendell, and former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter are expected to attend, according to an invitation obtained by CBS3.

Next month, he'll attend a Los Angeles fundraiser at the home of celebrity designer Michael Smith. And a fundraiser is in the planning stages in South Carolina, home to the first-in-the-South primary.

It's an unusual move to hold a fundraising event on the very first day of a presidential campaign, but the former vice president's scramble for campaign money underscores how critical posting a big fundraising number will be to Biden's third bid for the presidency.

Biden, the 20th Democratic candidate to enter the race, starts from behind.

Nine of his Democratic rivals entered April with at least $6 million in cash reserves. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump, the Republican National Committee and an affiliated committee have an even larger war chest: $82 million in the bank.

Biden himself is aware of the challenge, telling supporters on a Wednesday conference call that he "would be judged" by the fundraising performance in the opening days of the race, according to one person on the call.

Biden supporters say they are off to a strong start.

Alan Kessler, a Philadelphia lawyer and prominent Democratic fundraiser who is raising money for Biden, said he's had an "unbelievable" response to Thursday's fundraising event that organizers began planning only a week ago.

"I've not made one call or one request where the recipient has said 'no,' Kessler told CNN. "I'm batting 1,000 in terms of responses."

He's asking for $2,800 donations, the maximum an individual can donate in the primary. Kessler estimates about 100 or 125 people would attend the event at the home of Comcast executive David Cohen. But many more who can't attend also are sending in checks, Kessler said.

Given Biden's near-universal name recognition, "I don't think he's handicapped at all by getting in a little later than a number of the candidates," he added.

Organizers hope to raise $500,000 at Thursday's event, according to a person involved in the planning.

Richard Harpootlian, a lawyer in Columbia, South Carolina, who is in the early planning stages of a Biden fundraiser in the Palmetto State, said he raised $30,000 in 12 hours once it became clear that Biden was entering the race.

"If other people are having the same experience, then fundraising won't be a problem," Harpootlian told CNN.

Harpootlian, a veteran of South Carolina politics, was an early backer of Barack Obama's presidential campaign and raised money for both of Obama's successful White House bids. He said Biden will win support because he "is the one person in this race" who can oust Trump in the general election.

"Democrats are more pragmatic than I have ever seen them in a presidential race," Harpootlian said. "The main goal is not about the green plan or 'Medicare for All' or any of those issues. It's about who can stop the pain, who can beat Donald Trump."

Fundraising challenge

The political action committee Biden established in 2017, American Possibilities, raised a respectable $2.6 million over the two-year midterm election cycle and spent nearly half a million dollars to support Democrats running for Congress last year.

But Biden has never been a prolific fundraiser on his own.

He raised roughly $11 million, including money transferred from his Senate campaign account, during his brief 2008 presidential bid. That was well short of his $20 million fundraising goal in the race.

He dropped out following a weak showing in the Iowa caucuses.

By comparison, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders -- the fundraising leader of the 2020 field -- collected $18.2 million from individual contributors during the first 41 days of his candidacy. And in a sign of grassroots strength, small-dollar donations or $200 or less made up 84% of his haul.

Even as some big-name Democratic bundlers have defected to other campaigns, Biden still has access to the pool of political financiers, such as Kessler and Harpootlian, who helped underwrite the Obama-Biden ticket's successful White House campaigns.

A May 8 fundraiser in Los Angeles will he hosted by two other Obama bundlers -- Smith, who decorated the Obama family's private quarters at the White House, and his husband James Costos, who served as US ambassador to Spain during the Obama administration. The Hollywood Reporter first reported on the event.

Other bundlers plan to play the field before settling on a single candidate.

Robert Wolf, a longtime Democratic donor and Wall Street veteran who raised money for Obama and Hillary Clinton, told CNN that he will donate $2,800 to Biden on Thursday to show early support.

But he's still spreading his money around.

He said he's donated to seven other Democratic candidates so far: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, California Sen. Kamala Harris, California Rep. Eric Swalwell and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.

"It's so early still," Wolf said. "We want a diverse slate, and we want people's voices to be heard."

(©Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2019 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company contributed to this report.)

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