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.
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 ClintonGOP promotes Trump line mirroring Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign slogan GOP strategist says Virginia 'just got purple' Klobuchar says she will kick off campaign in Wisconsin, alludes to 2016 controversy 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.
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 ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Next 24 hours critical for stalled funding talks The case for Russia collusion … against the Democrats Trump’s warning to Congress on investigations overshadows his call for unity MORE or Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaJuan Williams: Obama casts long shadow over 2020 Let's examine factors that might be favorable for Dems in 2020 Chris Wallace: 'Rich' for GOP to rail against Dem oversight after repeated Obama-era investigations 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 BennetOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by America's 340B Hospitals — CDC blames e-cigs for rise in youth tobacco use | FDA cracks down on dietary supplements | More drug pricing hearings on tap The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Next 24 hours critical for stalled funding talks Democratic White House hopeful hits Medicare for all as 'bad opening offer' MORE (D-Colo.) and Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Negotiators look to revive stalled border talks Klobuchar jumps into 2020 race Sherrod Brown says Cory Booker sounds ‘like me’ in campaign pitch MORE (D-Ohio).
Vein and the group have also organized introductory gatherings for Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPress: Democrats dare to think big Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order to boost AI | Klobuchar lashes out at tech in 2020 launch | Bill would create cyber workforce exchange | Advocates call out Facebook before EU elections Bipartisan bill would create public-private cyber workforce exchange MORE (D-Minn.), who announced her candidacy this weekend, as well as Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellFive takeaways from acting AG's fiery House hearing Top Judiciary Republican to Swalwell: 'Stop running for president' Whitaker takes grilling from House lawmakers 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 HarrisPress: Democrats dare to think big Buttigieg on Trump: 'I'm a gay man from Indiana, I know how to deal with a bully' Klobuchar will not take corporate PAC money for presidential campaign 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 BidenJoseph (Joe) Robinette BidenRep. Moulton says he may run for president The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the American Academy of HIV Medicine - Next 24 hours critical for stalled funding talks Elizabeth Warren: Carries the torch of economic populism in 2020 but can't shake ancestry controversy 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.”