WASHINGTON â€“ When it comes to the 2020 presidential election, some prominent Democratic donors are putting patience ahead of long-held allegiances.
In a break with past elections, when financiers fell in line behind favored candidates, the potentially crowded field for the Democratic nomination has driven some donors to sit tight rather than commit â€“ even if that means putting old relationships on ice.Â
â€œI havenâ€™t even started to think about 2020,â€ said Daniel Berger, a Philadelphia lawyer who backed President Barack Obamaâ€™s campaigns. He was an early supporter of Hillary Clintonâ€™s 2016 bid but isnâ€™t aligning himself with former Vice President Joe Biden â€“ or anyone else â€“ as a possible candidate.
â€œCall me back in 45 days,â€ he said.Â
Early jockeying among Democrats for the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump in 2020 is well underway, includingÂ donor meetings across the country, contributors told USA TODAY. But the unwieldy number of would-be candidates is reshuffling the race for cashÂ and forcing some donors to rethink alliances.Â
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Democratic donor Marc Stanley, a Dallas attorney, created a super PAC during the midterm election that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost Rep. Beto Oâ€™Rourkeâ€™s progressive Senate bid in Texas. But as he looks ahead to the presidential race, he isnâ€™t necessarily committing to an Oâ€™Rourke campaign for the White House.Â
Instead, Stanley said heâ€™s primarily focused on winning.
â€œThis isnâ€™t about the shiniest penny,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ve got to focus in early and pick the candidate who can help evict Donald Trump.”
Oâ€™Rourke raised more than $80 million in his unsuccessful campaign to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, sparking talk of a presidential campaign before the polls closed.Â Â
Several prominent Democratic donors and bundlers told USA TODAY they are eager to focus the field andÂ avoid the drawn-out conflict both parties endured in 2016. But many also acknowledged no candidate has emerged with a lock on the party’s prolific donors.
That’s prompting some donors to sitÂ tight. A spokesman for liberal donorÂ George Soros told CNBC that theÂ billionaire may not pick a candidate in the primary. That would represent a departure from 2016, when he gave more than $300,000 to Hillary Clinton.
â€œIâ€™m going to wait a bit just to see how it begins to shape up,â€ said Dick Rosenthal, a Cincinnati philanthropist who bundled contributions for Clinton. â€œMy involvement wonâ€™t happen to any degree until there is a clear, leading candidate.”
Roughly three dozen Democrats are considering a run for president in 2020, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who raised more than $35 million for her re-election this year in Massachusetts.Â Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey, who are also considering a run,Â raised millions in 2018 despite not facing election.
Adding to the uncertainty for donors is the weight campaigns are increasingly giving to small-dollar donations, which propelled Trump in the general election and extended Vermont Sen. Bernie Sandersâ€™ primary campaign against Clinton. That dynamic might benefit lesser-known candidates who don’t have deep-pocketedÂ donors backing them.
MichaelÂ Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, said small-dollar donations are likely to arrive later in the race as voters get a better sense of the candidates.Â
â€œIt doesnâ€™t take a huge amount of money to become a credible candidate,â€ Malbin said. â€œI donâ€™t think the problem in a primary is whether or not you can be heard in the state of Iowa. The problem is to differentiate yourself.â€
Some prominent Democrats said theyâ€™re comfortable letting that process play outÂ over an extended period.Â Tom Steyer, a billionaire investor and Democratic donor who is also considering his own campaign for president in 2020, said he believesÂ prominent donors made a mistake in 2016 by getting behind Clinton so early.
Steyer spent more than $90 million on candidates in 2016 and organized an early fundraiser for Clinton at his home in San Francisco.Â
â€œI donâ€™t like the idea of clearing the field,â€ Steyer said. â€œI think that that did not serve us well in 2016 and it wouldnâ€™t serve us well in 2020.â€
Gerald Acker, a Detroit trial lawyer and former Obama donor, said he’s waited to engage in past elections but wanted to plant an early flag this cycle of his strong opposition to Trump. While he was a major donor for ObamaÂ in 2008 and 2012, he isnâ€™t waiting around for Biden to decide ifÂ he will run.
Biden, who passed on a run in 2016 after the death of his 46-year-old son, told an audience in Montana this month that he believes he is “the most qualified person in the country to be president.”Â
Acker described Biden as a “great guy,” but said heâ€™s planning to support Montana Gov. Steve Bullock if he runs.
â€œMost of these people are great â€“ impressive, smart, hardworking,â€ AckerÂ said. â€œBut when you go to the dance, youâ€™ve got to take somebody to dance with.â€