Biden tells California supporters to stay focused on what's at stake in reelection battle

LOS ANGELES (AP) — President Joe Biden kicked off a three-day fundraising sprint in California, making the case to supporters to stay focused on what’s at stake in his reelection battle where he will likely again face Donald Trump in November.

In remarks at a campaign reception on the grounds of billionaire Haim Saban’s Los Angeles home, Biden told supporters that a Trump win could lead to a nationwide abortion ban, more Republican efforts to undo Obamacare and a deteriorating American reputation on the world stage. Biden also addressed head-on the concerns among his supporters and detractors alike about his age — a lingering issue that’s become a drag on his reelection hopes.

“I may not run as fast as I used to. I may not be able to play flanker back at Delaware,” Biden told the audience that included actor Jane Fonda and comedian Greg Proops. “But I tell you what ... I’ve been around long enough to know what’s going on.”

The president will also make campaign stops in San Francisco and Los Altos Hills this week and will deliver a policy speech near Los Angeles on Wednesday, in an effort to collect as much cash as he can for his reelection bid.

Going into the trip, Biden's campaign and the Democratic National Committee announced that they had collected $42 million in contributions during January from 422,000 donors. Biden ended January with $130 million in cash on hand. Campaign officials said that is the highest total amassed by any Democratic candidate at this point in the cycle.

Biden campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez called the haul “an indisputable show of strength to start the election year.”

“While Team Biden-Harris continues to build on its fundraising machine, Republicans are divided – either spending money fighting Donald Trump, or spending money in support of Donald Trump’s extreme and losing agenda,” she said.

The figures suggest Biden is cementing an early cash advantage over Trump. But the numbers still lag what Trump had amassed during a similar period in 2020, when his campaign routinely smashed fundraising records.

Raising money is only part of the equation. How well that cash is spent is also a major factor — as Trump well knows. His 2020 campaign effectively lit his massive cash surpluses on fire through a series of questionable spending decisions.

This year, Trump retains his impressive ability to hoover up campaign cash, particularly from grassroots donors who typically chip in small amounts online. Trump, who hasn't released his January fundraising numbers yet, also faces a new threat to his campaign's finances: the staggering legal bills he racked up while defending himself in four separate criminal cases.

In order to maintain an edge in what's widely expected to be an expensive rematch with Trump, Biden's campaign will need to accelerate his fundraising.

This week's trip marks Biden's third visit to California in just over two months for political events. He's trying to make up for lost time after largely avoiding the Democratic donor stronghold during last year's strikes by the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA.

His hosts on Tuesday weren't in attendance; they both tested positive for COVID-19. Biden wished them a speedy recovery as he spoke to the crowd.

“We have to contrast the choice between Trump and me," he said. “We have to make it crystal clear.”

Biden made a quick visit to Los Angeles earlier this month for a meeting with supporters in the city's upscale Bel Air neighborhood. He and first lady Jill Biden also spent a weekend in December in the Los Angeles area for campaign events.

The first lady traveled Tuesday to Guilford, Connecticut, to hold a campaign fundraiser on behalf of her husband.

While the Bidens will be pursuing deep-pocketed donors this week, the campaign points to the number of smaller donations it has raised as an encouraging sign for the president.

The campaign says 97% of the 3 million donations it has received thus far were under $200 each. Biden has also received pledges from 158,000 “sustaining donors” who have committed to donating monthly. That's more than double the amount Biden had at this point in the 2020 cycle, when his cash-strapped campaign limped out of Iowa following a fourth-place finish in the state's February caucuses.

The new totals include donations to Biden’s political operation and to a network of joint fundraising arrangements with the national and state Democratic parties. Biden’s 2020 campaign raised over $1 billion, and could need even more in a likely Trump rematch.

Biden in recent days has seized on comments by Trump that call into question the U.S. commitment to defend NATO allies from attack as “dangerous” and “un-American.” Trump earlier this month said he once warned that he would allow Russia to do whatever it wants to NATO member nations that are “delinquent” in devoting 2% of their gross domestic product to defense.

The Biden campaign launched digital ads last week in three battleground states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — criticizing Trump for his threat to NATO countries. Biden has also railed against House Republicans for blocking a $95 billion foreign aid bill that includes $60 billion in funding for Ukraine's war with Russia.

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Associated Press writers Brian Slodysko and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press