The Democratic National Committee, financially crippled at the end of the 2016 elections and working to rebuild, is hustling to line up donors for 2020 before the dozens of Democrats eyeing presidential bids start scooping them up.
The DNC gathered its top donors at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Washington Tuesday for a meeting of its finance committee, an unusually early date for such an event during a political cycle. Their pitch: The committee will need unprecedented funds to take on President Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump has about $100 million in the bank right now in terms of 2020,” Jamie Harrison, associate chair at the DNC, told POLITICO. “It’s important the DNC ratchets up so when we turn the keys over to the nominee, there are sufficient resources.”
The party had some of its rising stars on hand Tuesday to make that pitch, including former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Sen.-elect Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.). Panel discussions had titles such as “2018- How we won” and “Defining Trump,” according to an agenda obtained by POLITICO.
Gillum — who lost his recent bid for governor of Florida but was nonetheless introduced as a “rock star” by DNC chairman Tom Perez — received a standing ovation from the crowd and posed for photos with attendees in the lobby.
The DNC could use the help. A slew of Democrats is expected to make bids for president in the coming months, setting up steep competition for donors’ money. Many of those politicians have been seeking a leg up for months by getting face-time with wealthy donors via fundraising for other candidates or organizations during the midterms. Others, such as Gillum, built relationships with the moneyed class during their own 2018 runs for office.
On Tuesday, supporters were cautiously optimistic about the DNC’s prospects.
“I feel fine about giving to the DNC. I feel better than I would have in some years past. It’s a functioning organization that’s thinking strategically,” said one donor, who declined to be named, citing privacy concerns.
The most important thing the DNC can do in the coming months is “keep their house in order” amid Trump’s reelection campaign and a potentially divisive Democratic primary, the donor said: “Uniting the Democratic Party is key.”
The DNC struggled to raise money in the wake of the 2016 election, when the organization — which held a lower status during Barack Obama’s presidency than his own political operation — was rebuilding with new staff and trying to stage a comeback from Hillary Clinton’s loss.
It eventually received checks from several of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors, including George Soros and Donald Sussman, during the midterms, raising $170 million. Still, that sum was only roughly half of the $317 million haul brought in by its Republican counterpart, which proved especially adept at raising money from small-dollar donors.
Now, the DNC, which will eventually support the Democratic nominee to take on Trump, does not want to be lost amid the candidates’ 2020 cash grab. And it’s trying to convince donors it’s capable of becoming a crucial piece of infrastructure supporting the Democrats’ eventual choice for president.
In addition to flashy speeches, donors on Tuesday listened to hours of strategy talks about data, field programs and opposition research. Operatives warned of the size and power of the Republican Party, which runs a large field operation and a centralized voter data system. (Democrats are bitterly divided over whether to try to replicate that data model.) And they boasted of the research into Trump they’ve been accumulating since 2015, which they’ll deploy on behalf of the 2020 nominee.
Mel Heifetz, a Pennsylvania-based donor and philanthropist, said he would be most motivated to give more money if he saw promising action from politicians next year, when Democrats will again control the House of Representatives.
“They’re talking a lot about the technical aspect of elections,” Heifetz said of the DNC’s pitch. “I care more about what people are doing.”
“We are still in 2018. Maybe they’d like to see 2019 pop up before they write more checks,” he said of his fellow donors. “We haven’t had Christmas yet.”