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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 ClintonVirginia governor's race poses crucial test for GOP Hillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race Hillary Clinton: Casting doubt on 2020 election is 'doing Putin's work' 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 ClintonFire-proofing forests is not possible Obama's presidential center may set modern record for length of delay Appeals court affirms North Carolina's 20-week abortion ban is unconstitutional MORE or Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama on Supreme Court ruling: 'The Affordable Care Act is here to stay' Appeals court affirms North Carolina's 20-week abortion ban is unconstitutional GOP senator: I want to make Biden a 'one-half-term president' 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 BennetSchumer vows to only pass infrastructure package that is 'a strong, bold climate bill' Past criticism of Trump becomes potent weapon in GOP primaries Hillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack MORE (D-Colo.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal How Biden can get the infrastructure bill through Congress Democrats reintroduce bill to create 'millionaires surtax' MORE (D-Ohio).

Vein and the group have also organized introductory gatherings for Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC | Lawmakers urge Biden to be tough on cyber during summit with Putin | TSA working on additional security regulations following Colonial Pipeline hack Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC Senate confirms Lina Khan to the FTC MORE (D-Minn.), who announced her candidacy this weekend, as well as Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMo Brooks accuses Swalwell attorney who served papers on his wife of trespassing Senate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas Democrats weigh next steps on Jan. 6 probe 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 HarrisBiden signs Juneteenth bill: 'Great nations don't ignore their most painful moments' Biden's plan for Central American kids is no substitute for asylum State Department bans Guatemalan lawmaker from entering US 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 BidenChinese apps could face subpoenas, bans under Biden executive order: report OVERNIGHT ENERGY:  EPA announces new clean air advisors after firing Trump appointees |  Senate confirms Biden pick for No. 2 role at Interior | Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management saw messaging failures, understaffing during pandemic Poll: Majority back blanket student loan forgiveness 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.”