On the heels of a bruising week for the front-runner in a crowded Democratic primary field, Vice President Joe Biden wooed Silicon Valley donors at a fundraiser Saturday morning in Los Altos.
Biden, wrapping up a swing through the Bay Area backyard of Sen. Kamala Harris just days after she sparred with him in an exchange over race that was the highlight of Thursday’s Democratic party debate, spoke to an audience of about 200 at the home of former Twitter executive Katie Jacobs Stanton.
He delivered a message of working across the aisle and healing partisan divisions.
“The opportunities we have are so breathtaking if we get together,” Biden said. “This is probably the only part of the world I don’t have to explain about the future to — you can explain to me.”
In their face-off at the debate on Thursday, Harris directly challenged Biden over his comments about finding common ground with segregationist senators, and brought up his opposition to the role of busing in school integration. Describing “a little girl in California” who helped integrate public schools in the state, she said, “That little girl was me,” a line that immediately went viral.
Harris’ comments, and a Biden performance many political observers found underwhelming, were among the most dissected aspects of the debates that stretched over two nights. On Saturday, with Harris back in the Bay Area for fundraisers of her own, her campaign wrote in an email to supporters saying it raised $2 million in the 24 hours after the debate.
Biden did not mention Harris on Saturday. But after a week in which she and others sharply criticized his record on race, Biden’s 28-minute speech — delivered as he walked around the pool at the center of Jacobs’ spacious backyard in a white shirt, blue tie and aviator sunglasses — included pointed references to the Civil Rights Movement and the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
When his family left Pennsylvania for Delaware, Biden said, “I moved to a state where there was still an ongoing, real, genuine struggle on segregation and rights related to the African-American community.”
He added, “That’s how I got involved as a kid in politics, and that’s how I got involved as a public defender.”
Biden said President Donald Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, in which a white supremacist killed an anti-racist protester, led him to enter the 2020 race.
“The fact of the matter is I never thought I’d see that in my lifetime,” Biden said of the “Unite the Right” rally. “I think we’re in a battle for the soul of this country.”
The audience at Jacobs’ home included executives from the tech industry and major Bay Area donors to former President Barack Obama’s campaigns, each of whom paid between $250 and $2,800 to attend the event. It was the last of three Bay Area fundraisers Biden attended after stops in San Francisco and Belvedere on Friday.
“I know I get criticized: ‘Biden says he can bring the country together,’” Biden said. “Well, guess what, I refuse to accept ‘He’s the old guy.’ I refuse to accept the status quo.”
The message of unity was what won over Biden supporter Deborah Suppes, a Palo Alto developer, who said she thought Biden did better in the debate than the national reaction suggested.
“He can speak to the whole country and help to bring us together,” Suppes said as she left the fundraiser, “and I think at this point we need to be brought together.”
But Saturday’s crowd had a notable absence: San Francisco attorney Tom McInerney, a Biden donor and fundraiser who had been touted as a guest on invitations for Saturday’s event, but who said this week that Biden lost his support with the comments about segregationists.
“Especially when we’ve got a president who’s stoking racial fears, it doesn’t seem like Biden really gets it,” McInerney said.
Levi Sumagaysay and Casey Tolan contributed reporting.