In the Bay Area, President Biden shows he can still energize donors. But what about voters?

SAN FRANCISCO – Topping off his record-setting re-election war chest, President Biden landed in the Bay Area on Wednesday for a two-day fundraising trip, complete with $100,000-a-pop tickets, showing he can still energize donors two weeks before Super Tuesday.

The bigger question is: Can he energize voters?

Hundreds of onlookers lined Marina Boulevard, three deep in some spots, to watch the Marine One helicopter deliver the president and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi before they drove off for a fundraiser in Pacific Heights.

President Joe Biden arrives in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 21, 2024, landing in Marine One along the Marina Greens. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

“There are concerns – about Biden’s age and inflation that might alienate or stop some voters from going to the polls,” retired banker and Biden supporter Mark Issacs said Wednesday as he stood on the sidewalk with his white lab Pierce. “But on the other hand, MAGA fanatics will turn out.”

On his three-day California trip from Los Angeles to Los Altos Hills, Biden has been touting his protection of the Affordable Care Act and Medicare, his vow to save abortion rights and reduce the cost of insulin. Hours before he landed in San Francisco, the White House announced the cancellation of another $1.2 billion in student loan debt.

But will those accomplishments translate to a November victory against his likely opponent, former President Donald Trump, who polls show is neck and neck with Biden in battleground states?

“The administration has been slow to find its mojo,” said David McCuan, a political science professor at Sonoma State. “This California trip is a test of themes, of testing things that can build momentum, because they’ve lacked the momentum.”

President Joe Biden disembarks Air Force One to meet, from left, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, U.S. Representatives Kevin Mullin and Nancy Pelosi, at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Calif. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

Biden is all but assured to win the reliably deep blue state of California in November, but this week’s visit to the Golden State is the 81-year-old president’s first since his age and memory made headlines earlier this month. A report written by the special counsel investigating his handling of classified documents after he left the vice presidency called Biden a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and had “diminished faculties in advancing age.” Nevermind Trump, 77, was born nine months after the end of World War II.

At the Pacific Heights fundraiser Wednesday afternoon, attended by Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr who has hosted numerous Democratic events, Biden touched on Trump’s mental fitness for office, especially for comparing himself this week to persecuted Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died last week in prison.

“If I stood here 10 to 15 years ago and said all this,” Biden said, “you’d all think I should be committed.”

At the end of this next presidential term, Biden would be 86 and Trump 82. Ronald Reagan, the second-oldest president, was just weeks shy of his 78th birthday when he finished his second term in 1989. But that’s months younger than Biden was when he began his first term in 2021.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump greets people after a Fox News Channel town hall Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson) 

For some who had come to catch a glimpse of the president, Biden’s age and mental capacity were front and center.

Coty Feith, 27, was too far away to see Biden get off the helicopter and walk arm and arm with Pelosi to the motorcade. But she said that while he’s doing some positive things – she approves of his student debt relief even though it won’t affect her – she’s worried about Biden.

“As someone gets older, they are not as able to stay on top of things as they once were,” Feith said.

Even though Trump is north of 75, she said, she has far bigger worries about “how he’s obsessed with himself and how he treats people.”

She voted for Trump in 2016 when she lived in Wisconsin, she said, but “I regretted it.”

Still, she said, she’s undecided about Biden: “I really like Nikki Haley.”

Veteran Democratic strategist Bob Mulholland said that if President Biden and his campaign want to win over young voters concerned about Biden’s age, they should go on the attack against Trump’s “old-age ideas” on reproductive rights.

The overturning of Roe v. Wade has galvanized women both young and old like no other national issue, Mulholland said. He also suggested that Trump has his fair share of gaffes that Democrats could capitalize on.

“When he (Trump) said that, on January 6th, Nicky Haley was in charge of security, that wasn’t a deliberate attack – that was a mistake,” he said. “He is making a lot of those mistakes.”

It was a mistake that Trump supporter Miguel Rodriguez, who also stopped to watch the Marine One landing, had never heard.

But to him, Trump’s verbal gaffes don’t matter.

“I think Trump likes to speak the truth, his truth,” said Rodriquez, a painting contractor who doesn’t believe Biden is “mentally fit” for the job. “He’s a little slow,” Rodriguez said.

He considers Trump “a little more there.”

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on canceling student debt at Culver City Julian Dixon Library on Feb. 21, 2024 in Culver City, California. The Biden administration announced it will forgive $1.2 billion in student debt for more than 150,000 borrowers who are enrolled in the Saving on a Valuable Education (SAVE) repayment plan. According to the White House, Biden has canceled a total of $138 billion in student debt for close to 3.9 million borrowers. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images) 

Biden will end his California visit on Thursday at the Los Altos Hills home of real estate developer Bob Klein and Danielle Guttman, where former state Controller Steve Westly will co-host a fundraiser.

When he left Washington earlier in the week, Biden dismissed a reporter who asked whether his trip to California was “about coming up with a Plan B for 2024 — does Gavin need to stand by?”

There was no sign of California Gov. Gavin Newsom in the president’s entourage Wednesday, but he has been a high-profile surrogate, taking on former GOP contender Gov. Ron DeSantis in a debate last fall, and dismissing suggestions he should replace Biden on the ballot.

Although the contrast between Biden’s 81 years and Newsom’s 56 might cause its own detriment to Biden, McCuan believes it is working in Biden’s favor.

Newsom, he said, isn’t afraid to go “into the belly of the beast and talks to Fox News for Democrats,” McCuan said. But the governor, he said, “keeps drawing it back to the president.”


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Author: Julia Prodis Sulek, Scooty Nickerson