Or­ga­ni­za­tions con­tinue work boost­ing Bi­den, Trump and search for new op­por­tu­ni­ties to fundraise from afar as so­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines rule out hand­shakes and photo ops.

No more hand­shakes or photo ops, but fundrais­ers still boost­ing Bi­den, Trump

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Steven Le­mon­gello

In May 2019, 400 peo­ple packed into at­tor­ney John Mor­gan’s house in Heathrow on a Tues­day evening for the chance to see, and maybe talk to, for­mer

Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den. They paid be­tween $1,000 to $2,800 each for the op­por­tu­nity.

But a year later, hun­dreds of peo­ple crammed into some­one’s liv­ing room is out of the ques­tion, thanks to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. And so Bi­den’s most re­cent Florida fundraiser, a “fire­side chat” with state agri­cul­ture com­mis­sioner Nikki Fried, was en­tirely vir­tual – and $1,000 to $2,800 only got con­trib­u­tors the log-in in­for­ma­tion.

Bi­den’s cam­paign, as well as Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s, is still in the process of fig­ur­ing out how to raise the kind of cash needed to pro­pel a pres­i­den­tial run with­out be­ing able to fundraise in per­son.

“[It’s] much more dif­fi­cult,” said Mor­gan, a long­time Demo­cratic fundraiser who has hosted events for the Clin­tons and Pres­i­dent Obama. “Peo­ple want the photo line and to rub el­bows.”

Florida is one of the most im­por­tant swing states in the na

tion, but get­ting the mes­sage out here is in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive for cam­paigns. Ads have to go out across 10 me­dia mar­kets, in­clud­ing key ar­eas such as Or­lando, Tampa, Mi­ami, and Jack­sonville.

Bi­den, in par­tic­u­lar, was de­pen­dent on big fundrais­ers like the one at Mor­gan’s house for most of his pri­mary run, even as some of his op­po­nents in­clud­ing U.S. Sens. Bernie San­ders and Elizabeth War­ren pledged they wouldn’t do them.

Bi­den re­turned to Central Florida in Oc­to­ber for a fundraiser in Win­der­mere, when his cam­paign was rou­tinely low on cash through­out the fall and

win­ter – un­til his break­through vic­to­ries in the South Carolina and Su­per Tues­day pri­maries pro­pelled him to the top of the pack.

De­spite the be­gin­nings of the out­break, the Bi­den cam­paign raised $46 mil­lion in March once it be­came clear he was the fu­ture party nom­i­nee. But most of that came in the first half of the month be­fore so­cial dis­tanc­ing went into ef­fect. And then came April – and a coun­try al­most en­tirely shut down. Since then, Bi­den has been cam­paign­ing en­tirely out of a stu­dio in his base­ment in Wilm­ing­ton, Delaware.

“It’s not just the pres­i­den­tial race,” said Su­san MacManus, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of po­lit­i­cal science at the Univer­sity of South Florida. “All the way down the bal­lot, fundrais­ers are heav­ily con­tin­gent on fundrais­ing events for can­di­dates, and that’s gone by the way­side. [There’s] an in­abil­ity of can­di­dates at all lev­els to meet peo­ple and raise money.”

The Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee was hav­ing a tough time even be­fore the cri­sis, tak­ing in just $13 mil­lion in Fe­bru­ary. But Bloomberg’s $18 mil­lion do­na­tion in March helped the DNC raise $33 mil­lion in March, ac­cord­ing to the cam­paign trans­parency site Open Se­crets, com­ing in ahead of the RNC’s $24 mil­lion in March.

One of the last trips Trump made out of Wash­ing­ton be­fore the cri­sis deep­ened was a brief pit stop in Seminole County on March 9 for a $100,000-per-cou­ple fundraiser at the home of Bob and Diane Dello Russo in Alachua Lakes.

The Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee took in $212 mil­lion in the first quar­ter, but the pan­demic be­gan to eat into the Trump cam­paign’s num­bers. The cam­paign and RNC took in a com­bined $63 mil­lion in March com­pared to $86 mil­lion in Fe­bru­ary.

But as of March 12, the day af­ter Trump banned travel from Europe, the Trump cam­paign in Florida tran­si­tioned to an en­tirely vir­tual cam­paign. Since then, they’ve made more than 3.4 mil­lion calls to sup­port­ers in Florida.

“Trump Vic­tory has not missed a beat and we are full steam ahead to Novem­ber,” said cam­paign spokes­woman Emma Vaughan. “Un­like the broke DNC, we have long been in­vest­ing in cut­ting edge tech­nolo­gies to run a mod­ern cam­paign.”

Randy Ross, the 2016 Trump cam­paign chair in Orange County, said he ex­pected fundrais­ing to­tals to keep pace with where they would have been with­out a pan­demic.

“You’d be sur­prised,” Ross said via text. “You don’t need a high $$$ plate fundraiser to sup­port POTUS. And for­tu­nately, we had been rais­ing record monies lead­ing into this pan­demic.”

And while big donors are crit­i­cal to the suc­cess of any cam­paign, “I’ve al­ways be­lieved in the con­cept of a fundrais­ing army that in­cludes huge num­bers of donors at $5 to $50, etc. It all mat­ters. It takes all lev­els of donors to win.”

More than 4.3 mil­lion mostly small donors helped pro­pel the Demo­cratic su­per PAC, Ac­tBlue, to a mas­sive $533 mil­lion first-quar­ter haul. But still, big donors are what ev­ery cam­paign is look­ing for.

While con­tri­bu­tions to in­di­vid­ual can­di­dates are capped at $2,800, po­lit­i­cal com­mit­tees can rake in un­lim­ited amounts of money.

“As [Bi­den’s] chances to win be­come more in­evitable, it will be less of a prob­lem,” Mor­gan said of at­tract­ing big donors. “Gi­ant checks can now be given to the DNC. And we still haven’t seen what Bloomberg is go­ing to do [with the rest of his money]. One check from him and game over. Joe Bi­den is our next pres­i­dent.”

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