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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 ClintonTexas Supreme Court rejects Alex Jones request to toss lawsuits from Sandy Hook parents Paris Agreement: Biden's chance to restore international standing Samantha Power's Herculean task: Turning a screw with a rubber screwdriver 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 ClintonMcConnell proposes postponing impeachment trial until February The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' The Memo: Biden strives for common ground after Trump turmoil MORE or Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTom Brokaw retiring from NBC News after 55 years Obama remembers baseball legend Hank Aaron as 'one of the strongest people I've ever met' Baseball legend Hank Aaron dies at 86 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 BennetTop Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers MORE (D-Colo.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSenators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal Senate panel unanimously advances Yellen nomination for Treasury Senate Democrats file ethics complaint against Hawley, Cruz over Capitol attack MORE (D-Ohio).

Vein and the group have also organized introductory gatherings for Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocrats seek answers on impact of Russian cyberattack on Justice Department, Courts A Day in Photos: The Biden Inauguration Senators vet Buttigieg to run Transportation Department MORE (D-Minn.), who announced her candidacy this weekend, as well as Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellSwalwell compares Trump to bin Laden: They 'inspired and radicalized' Pelosi names 9 impeachment managers House Judiciary Democrats ask Pence to invoke 25th Amendment to remove Trump 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 HarrisSenators introduce bill to award Officer Goodman the Congressional Gold Medal An ally in the White House is good for abortion access, but not enough LeBron James says 'it would be great' for champion Lakers to visit Biden White House 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 BidenMcCarthy says he told Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene he disagreed with her impeachment articles against Biden Biden, Trudeau agree to meet next month Fauci infuriated by threats to family 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.”