When the Democratic candidates take the stage at tonight’s Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles, a number of donors and fundraisers will be in the audience, perhaps to see if they get more clarity on who to support in the 2020 race.
That is particularly true since Kamala Harris dropped out of the race earlier this month. She was among the candidates drawing the most money from the entertainment industry, along with Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden. The debate at Loyola Marymount University, sponsored by PBS and Politico, will be the first without Harris on the stage, as well as a smaller field of seven contenders.
A number of Hollywood donors still are backing multiple candidates, waiting to see how the race shakes out or even preferring to see who emerges after the first states start voting in February.
Among those who have supported a number of contenders is Norman Lear, who was holding a debate watch party at his home along with wife Lyn. Tom Steyer was expected to join them after the event, though the Lears made clear that they are not yet endorsing a candidate.
This was to be the debate in which Harris would have been on her home turf. She also had considerable support in the entertainment industry, having been the first candidate to hold a major Hollywood fundraiser in the 2020 cycle, when her campaign held an event at the home of Universal’s Jeff Shell.
“I have been happy to support several people at this point, but I don’t think there is any rush right now,” said John Emerson, the former U.S. ambassador to Germany, who was supporting Harris.
He said that he was on a flight when she dropped out and when he landed, he said he already had a half-dozen emails from other campaigns. But he senses that a number of donors want to take a “breather” as they assess other candidates, and perhaps “stand back and see how this all plays out.”
“The most frequent thing I hear is, ‘I am going to support a number of candidates,'” Emerson said. “They will give to this fundraiser or that fundraiser. They will say, ‘I just want to beat Trump.'”
Jon Vein, a business entrepreneur, said that he’s lately been focused on organizing groups with an eye for ensuring that whoever the nominee is will be able to “hit the ground running” in the general election. Among them are Organizing Corps 2020 and Acronym.
“There is still a lot of waiting and seeing,” he said. “A lot of people say there are still too many people in the race. I don’t want to jump in just yet.”
Mathew Littman, a political consultant who was a surrogate for Harris’ campaign, said that he heard from three campaigns within 24 hours after Harris dropped out earlier this month.
He has not picked a different candidate and has been devoting part of energies to organizing for other races next year, including a newsletter, All Hands on Deck, that highlights various Senate and other downballot races and is sent out to a number of industry politically focused figures.
When it comes to industry support, Littman said that Buttigieg has the “highest upside.” “If he can prove he can get African-American or Latino support, he will get a lot of money.”
“A lot of people really like Elizabeth Warren, but also there are a lot of people who are worried about Elizabeth Warren,” Littman said.
Warren also has substantial industry support, but she has forsaken high-dollar fundraisers that are a staple of so much Hollywood political activity.
Biden, Littman said, has a great track record with the entertainment community, having worked on issues of piracy and trade when he was vice president, but “the deal is not closed yet.”