Second gentleman Doug Emhoff has emerged as a go-to fundraiser for the Democratic Party leading into the 2022 midterms.
Emhoff has racked up more appearances at fundraisers benefiting the Democratic National Committee than any other White House principal besides his wife, Vice President Kamala Harris, and is expected to appear this summer at a number of state party political functions.
The affable spouse of the vice president has been a draw for donors, current and former Democratic Party officials say. The party officials said it also helps that Emhoff, who teaches part time at Georgetown Law and does not have any summer classes, is willing and available to raise money and travel.
“The second gentleman and I have really bonded and have developed a good working relationship and friendship, and he always wants to go out there and sell the achievements of this administration,” DNC Chair Jaime Harrison said.
Emhoff has helped the DNC fill its coffers in an election cycle in which the president has had a tougher time getting out of Washington than his predecessors. The DNC says that with the second gentleman’s help, it is setting midterm fundraising records.
President Joe Biden has appeared at six fundraisers on behalf of the national party committee to date, a DNC spokesperson said, and first lady Jill Biden has headlined three.
Harris’ husband has attended eight, including a joint appearance he made with his wife last month in Los Angeles, the DNC says. Emhoff’s tally is just shy of his wife’s. Harris has spoken at nine, the DNC spokesperson said.
“He’s very good with donors. And he’s extremely likable,” said Clayton Cox, who was national finance director to the DNC during the last presidential election. “He very much goes with the flow and is really good in that space.”
Emhoff had little national exposure or political experience prior to his wife’s presidential and vice presidential bids.
He said in an interview that his experience as a California-based attorney had helped him with his efforts to support his wife and the Biden administration.
“I think being a lawyer, being in Hollywood, being a trial lawyer, and being used to standing up and being able to answer questions, it all turns out to be great skills for second gentleman,” Emhoff said. “But also just being authentic, being myself.”
He indicated that he has taken a similar approach to party politicking. Emhoff said he focuses on building a connection with the audience at his events.
“It’s really just telling stories and just making sure you’re communicating in a way that people can understand and appreciate,” Emhoff said. “And that’s something I did, you know, as a Hollywood lawyer, and it’s something that has been helpful. And I’m just trying, just to talk to people and listen.”
Emhoff initially took a leave of absence from the law firm where he was a partner to support his wife’s vice presidential bid. He quit his job once Harris and Biden were elected.
He told a group of students during a roundtable at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., in April that serving as second gentleman is a “very special” opportunity. But he also acknowledged candidly that “the biggest pain is you’re in the public eye.”
Even when Harris was a senator, and before that, California attorney general, Emhoff told them, “For the most part, I was able to have a normal-ish life.
“Sometimes it’s very surreal,” Emhoff said.
Emhoff nevertheless established himself early in the administration as a reliable campaigner and fundraiser who the national party could lean on for help as Biden fought to pass his agenda and tamp down coronavirus spread.
Harris’ husband headlined the first fundraiser that Harrison held after becoming party boss last year. The virtual DNC fundraiser, which Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker also spoke at, brought in close to $1 million dollars.
The Los Angeles fundraiser that Emhoff and Harris appeared at together raised roughly the same amount, the evening’s host and Emhoff’s friend of nearly 35 years Matt Walden said at the event, which Hollywood producers Ryan Murphy, J.J. Abrams and Reggie Hudlin also attended.
Emhoff said in introductory remarks before his wife’s that although he missed being an entertainment lawyer, it was “truly, truly, truly humbling” to be serving as the nation’s first second gentleman.
“I have spent a lot of time traveling the country on behalf of the party and the DNC,” Emhoff said. “And this is just the beginning. I approach these midterms with a huge sense of optimism and confidence and joy, because we’re on the right side of so many issues.”
Emhoff says he has traveled to at least 35 states since the beginning of the Biden administration. Among the DNC finance events he has appeared at this year were two fundraisers in March in Miami and Miami Beach, Florida, and two fundraisers in Los Angeles, including the one with his wife.
On his first trip out of Washington, D.C., following his recovery from COVID-19, Emhoff appeared at three DNC finance events in one week. After the L.A. event with Harris, he broke off from her trip to headline fundraisers in Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco, California.
Typically, each one of the second gentleman’s events raises about $100,000 for the DNC, a party spokesperson said.
Brendan Doherty, a political science professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and an expert on presidential fundraising, said, “Those are not large dollars. But it makes sense that the second gentleman would attract less money than say a president would.
“Generally speaking, the president is the most effective fundraiser on the political landscape, and then you’ve got an array of other fundraisers who can draw donor interest, attention and dollars — but generally in smaller amounts,” Doherty said.
The DNC says that along with its joint fundraising arm, it raised $16.8 million in March, with the help of Biden, Harris and the first and second spouses. The party committee raised more than $42 million through the end of the first quarter of 2022, which a DNC spokesperson said was the most ever for a midterm election year.
In the same time frame, the Republican National Committee says it raised $17.6 million for the month and $47 million for the quarter. A spokesperson said that it was also the Republican Party’s best total for the first quarter of a midterm year and emphasized that the RNC outraised its Democratic counterpart without the added benefit of holding the White House.
Biden has been bogged down by the pandemic, Russia’s war on Ukraine and a series of economic crises and has not spent as much time fundraising in office as his recent predecessors.
Doherty said that former President Donald Trump had appeared at 13 fundraisers that benefited the RNC at the same point in his presidency — four of which benefited the party solely and nine of which were for the Trump Victory committee that helped his reelection campaign and the RNC.
Former President Barack Obama had appeared at 22 DNC fundraisers by the end of April 2010, Doherty said.
‘WHATEVER IT TAKES’
Emhoff has helped to fill the Democratic Party’s fundraising gap. Rather than launch a specific policy initiative, he has chosen to become one of the White House’s top delegates.
“I’m going to do whatever it takes for this country and for our democracy. And I’m going to work as hard as I’ve ever worked, as I always do. So I’m going to do what’s asked and what’s needed,” Emhoff said in an interview.
He added, “I’m going to continue to do that to support my wife as a husband, to support my vice president as second gentleman, and to support this administration and ultimately, the American people. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Former Laura Bush chief of staff Anita McBride said that Emhoff’s frequent travel indicates that he is viewed by the Democratic Party and the White House as an effective spokesman for the Biden administration going into a tough election.
“The spouses are always popular figures out on the road,” McBride said. “They’re great surrogates for a campaign and for raising money.”
Harrison said his view on sending Emhoff out to fund-raise and campaign, in addition to the president, vice president and first lady, is that when you have a strong group of people in your corner, “You’d better utilize them.”
“This is the fight to save democracy. And so it’s all hands on deck,” Harrison said.