Democratic donors stuck in shopping phase of primary

Democratic donors are in the “shopping” phase of the 2020 presidential cycle.

Faced with a growing field of possible contenders, donors in many cases are playing the field rather than committing to one particular candidate.

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It’s a stark difference from the past few presidential cycles, when donors quickly threw their support behind a preferred candidate in order to gain favor with them.

This time, with no clear front-runner and more than a dozen candidates expected to enter the race, donors are taking their time, according to half a dozen interviews with major Democratic bundlers and other fundraisers.

They are meeting with multiple candidates, taking calls from others and learning about their various positions.

“Most of us are getting to know the candidates and are looking to create a dialogue with them,” said Robert Zimmerman, a big Democratic donor who signed on early to back Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonYoung Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive Young Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive Trump highlights polls that showed Clinton beating him by double digits MORE during the 2008 and 2016 cycles.

“I’m just not ready to jump in,” another major Democratic bundler said recently. “I’m friendly with quite a few of these folks and I’m not quite there yet. I think a lot of us are shopping to see who the best person is to take on [President] Trump. At the end of the day that’s what it all boils down to.”

Rather than writing checks, donors are hosting meet and greets, or “friendraisers,” behind the scenes that are intended to introduce candidates to potential donors. For the donor class, the meetings are a chance to shop for the best candidate.

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Jon Vein, a prominent Democratic donor who also got behind Clinton early on, said he has a “strong preference” for one candidate.

But he hasn’t made a commitment and says “it’s important to get educated” about each candidate and their positions.

While he meets with candidates, he said he is looking at whether he agrees with their policy positions and deciding if he believes they would be a good chief executive and, perhaps most importantly, if they can defeat Trump.

At this stage in their own presidential runs, few voters or donors knew who Jimmy Carter, Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonFormer Senate Dem leader: 'No way' impeachment trial for Trump would lead to conviction Former Senate Dem leader: 'No way' impeachment trial for Trump would lead to conviction Pelosi: House Democrats 'not even close' to backing impeachment MORE or Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAren't delirious Democrats now accusing Team Obama of treason? Trump won't say if he'd endorse Pence in 2024 HHS restores legal meaning of 'sex' — what will US Supreme Court, Congress do? MORE even were, Vein said.

“So getting informed and helping folks make their case is sensible if one wanted to make an informed decision,” he added. 

In the meantime, Vein and a couple of other donors in Los Angeles have been hosting would-be candidates who have yet to formally announce whether they are running, including former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetDemocratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement Democratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate MORE (D-Colo.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownCongress can defend against Russia by outlawing anonymous shell companies Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-Ohio).

Vein and the group have also organized introductory gatherings for Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharHillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data Hillicon Valley: Hacker group targeted electric grid | House Democrats press CBP over facial recognition program | Senators offer bill to protect health data | Groups file FCC complaint over carriers' use of location data It's time to let Medicare to negotiate drug prices MORE (D-Minn.), who announced her candidacy this weekend, as well as Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellDemocratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement Democratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement Swalwell to pitch gun control plan near NRA headquarters MORE (D-Calif.), who is flirting with a run.

While donors and fundraisers aren’t yet committing to specific candidates, they are, in some cases, attending fundraisers and writing checks.

Last week, for example, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisKamala Harris rallies with McDonald's workers striking for higher wages Kamala Harris rallies with McDonald's workers striking for higher wages 22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry MORE (D-Calif.) headlined two fundraisers for her campaign in Los Angeles, where attendees included entertainment executive Jeffrey Katzenberg and actress Eva Longoria — two checkwriters for Obama — as well as Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos and Amazon Studios’s Jennifer Salke, according to Variety.

Late last week, Harris also headlined another two jampacked fundraisers in New York — one for low-dollar donors and one for high-dollar donors, according to attendees.

One major Democratic donor who attended one of the events and will likely support her said that Harris proved that she can be president.

“I’ve been doing this a really long time and I was really, really, really struck by her message and people she’s drawing into her campaign,” the donor said. “She’s very, very natural.”

Some donors say it’s still early to commit to a candidate, especially before the field is finalized.

They say they are still waiting to see if former Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry 22 presidential candidates to attend Clyburn's South Carolina fish fry Young Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive MORE decides to run before signing up behind another candidate.

“If he does run, I think it will be a game changer,” one fundraiser predicted. “The race will have a front-runner, whether people want to readily admit that or not.”

Biden has been checking in with donors and fundraisers recently in an effort to keep in touch, according to three Democratic donors.

At the same time, others in the checkwriting crowd are intrigued by the possibility of former Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s (D-Texas) candidacy and say they are purposely keeping the door open.

“There are still so many unknowns,” one donor said. “It’s anybody’s game.”