CHICAGO — Michael Avenatti — attorney, potential presidential candidate, and owner of a strong jawline — dropped in on the Democratic Party’s summer meeting on Thursday as he continued to tease a 2020 run.
“I think I’m a man of substance, frankly,” Avenatti told reporters in the lobby of Chicago’s Hyatt Regency hotel after a short speech to the DNC’s Ethnic Council. “I think actually when people hear me speak and when I answer questions about the issues, they’re taken aback in a significant way.”
The lawyer best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels took something of a victory lap this week after Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen implicated the president in campaign finance violations related to hush money paid to Daniels during the 2016 campaign.
Avenatti also delivered a brief remark to the DNC’s Black Caucus that included an aside about how “People that look like me, white men, we need to stand up.” In the evening, he hit the party circuit, shaking hands and taking selfies with dozens of Democratic officials.
The reception appeared largely positive.
As Avenatti walked across the hotel lobby after talking with reporters, the chair of the Michigan Democratic Party Brandon Dillon approached Avenatti to see if he could come to the state and help rally support for candidates there.
“He's definitely got a message, and I think Democrats need to hear about being tough,” Dillon told VICE News. “He's certainly I think somebody who is giving the president fits and has been someone who's been fighting, so you know I'd be interested to hear what he has to say and I'm sure a lot of people in Michigan would as well.”
Dillon declined to comment specifically on Avenatti’s presidential ambitions, but others were happy to step in.
“He’s in, right? He’s running for president and I think it’s good he’s here and I think that all the other candidates should also be showing support for the state party infrastructure,” said Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party.
“He’s a breath of fresh air in our stale, staid—” Diane Robertson, a deputy finance chair of the DNC, told VICE News, leaving the word “party” left unsaid. “We need some fire, and he’s fiery.”
Other Democrats noted the lawyer’s fire wasn’t just limited to his rhetoric. Unprompted, several Democrats admiringly discussed Avenatti’s physique to VICE News but declined to say so on the record. The remarks ranged from “handsome” to “I have a thing for bald guys” to “I wouldn’t not fuck him.”
Multiple people referenced the “Hottie Avenatti” meme.
Asked about the presumably complimentary comments, Avenatti smirked and said, “No comment.”
But not all Dems were as enamored with the lawyer and his presidential aspirations. “We already have one reality TV presidency; we don’t need another,” said Nina Turner, the president of the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution. “On. The. Record,” she added for emphasis.
“Being a celebrity lawyer is cool, but it’s not presidential timber,” said longtime DNC member James Zogby. Still, he said, “I think more of him now after coming here.”
Avenatti says he plans to visit at least 20 states in the coming months, which will undoubtedly include more visits to early-primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire.
“If it takes Stormy Daniels and Michael Avenatti to make the difference between people not going bankrupt over healthcare, then we’ll take that deal,” said one Democratic consultant. “Even insiders are open to a new way of doing things,” the consultant added.
Some have compared Avenatti’s knack for attracting cable television cameras (he did a brief segment with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after his speech to the Ethnic Council) and ability to tease out revelations with that of President Donald Trump.
But there were echoes of other Trumpian characteristics as well.
Explaining Avenatti’s appeal, Michigan Democratic Party’s Chief Operating Officer Lavora Barners told VICE News: “A lot of it is like his ability to speak truth to power and ‘You say what all of us are thinking but nobody's saying.”
He tells it like it is?
Cover image: Michael Avenatti, lawyer of adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, speaks during the Democratic Wing Ding event in Clear Lake, Iowa, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. The event in its 15th year of operation is a Democratic fundraiser that benefits participating county parties. Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images.