Pan­demic makes fundrais­ing harder for cam­paigns.

Once-rou­tine re­quests for con­tri­bu­tions get tricky dur­ing a cri­sis

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY BRIAN SLODYSKO

WASH­ING­TON — White House can­di­dates aren’t usu­ally bash­ful about ask­ing sup­port­ers for money.

But as the coro­n­avirus up­ends ev­ery­day life, in­un­dat­ing hos­pi­tals, tank­ing fi­nan­cial mar­kets and putting 3.3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans out of work, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and his likely Demo­cratic ri­val, Joe Bi­den, sud­denly find them­selves nav­i­gat­ing per­ilous ter­rain.

What used to be a rou­tine re­quest for po­lit­i­cal cash could now come across as tone-deaf or tacky. The two also run the risk of com­pet­ing for lim­ited dol­lars with char­i­ties try­ing to raise money for pan­demic re­lief. With a re­ces­sion po­ten­tially on the hori­zon, there’s a ques­tion of whether wealthy donors are in a giv­ing mood and whether grass­roots sup­port­ers who chip in small amounts will still have the where­withal to keep at it.

That presents a del­i­cate chal­lenge as both can­di­dates try to stock­pile the mas­sive amounts of cash needed for the gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

“It’s hard to have a con­ver­sa­tion with some­one right now to ask how they’re get­ting by, and then ask them for fi­nan­cial sup­port in the next sen­tence,” said Greg God­dard, a Demo­cratic fundraiser who worked for Amy Klobuchar’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign be­fore the Min­nesota sen­a­tor dropped out of the Demo­cratic race.

To Tim Lim, a Demo­cratic con­sul­tant who worked for both Barack Obama and Hil­lary Clin­ton, “it’s a world where no one has a good an­swer.’’ He said that ”on the fundrais­ing side, we are go­ing to take some mas­sive hits as a party.”

The task is par­tic­u­larly acute for Bi­den. The for­mer vice pres­i­dent is try­ing to pivot from the pri­mary to the gen­eral elec­tion in a race es­sen­tially frozen by the virus.

He lacks Trump’s re-elec­tion cash re­serves, which

were built up over the past three years of his pres­i­dency. Bi­den also has yet to clinch the nom­i­na­tion and won’t be able to do so un­til post­poned pri­mary con­tests are held in the months ahead.

Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders, his sole re­main­ing 2020 ri­val, has given no in­di­ca­tion that he will back out, de­spite Bi­den’s vir­tu­ally in­sur­mount­able lead in the del­e­gate race.

The pan­demic has put all big­dol­lar fundrais­ers on hold, like all in-per­son po­lit­i­cal events. That’s forced Trump and Bi­den, for now, to rely on on­line fundrais­ing.

Bi­den is hold­ing vir­tual fundrais­ers via video con­fer­ences. But they lack the ex­clu­siv­ity and tac­tile na­ture of an in-per­son event, where donors can net­work, see and be seen. Bi­den and Trump con­tinue to send out fundrais­ing emails and texts.

“It isn’t easy for me to ask you for money to­day,” Bi­den cam­paign man­ager Jen O’Mal­ley Dil­lon said in a fundrais­ing email Thurs­day, seek­ing con­tri­bu­tions as low as $5. “There are so many de­serv­ing char­i­ties and small busi­nesses in your com­mu­nity where your money makes a huge dif­fer­ence right now. And of course, your own needs and the needs of your fam­ily take prece­dence.”

But, she con­tin­ued, “we have to keep fundrais­ing be­cause we have to keep cam­paign­ing. And we have to keep cam­paign­ing be­cause it’s the only way we can de­feat Trump in Novem­ber.”

Trump re­peat­edly played down the threat posed by the virus in the early days of the out­break, and his cam­paign was no ex­cep­tion. It blasted out fundrais­ing texts with fa­mil­iar themes, such as at­tack­ing Bi­den, San­ders and the me­dia. The cam­paign en­ticed donors by of­fer­ing Trump-themed items, in­clud­ing a set of sham­rock whiskey glasses of­fered up in ex­change for a $35 con­tri­bu­tion around St. Pa­trick’s Day.

But in a March 12 mes­sage, his cam­paign also texted sup­port­ers a “coro­n­avirus up­date,” which re­flected Trump’s new­found con­cern over the virus and did not in­clude a re­quest for money.

“The safety, se­cu­rity, and health of the Amer­i­can Peo­ple is Pres­i­dent Trump’s top pri­or­ity right now,” the mes­sage said. It also urged sup­port­ers to visit the U.S gov­ern­ment’s coro­n­avirus web­site to “learn ways to keep you, your fam­ily, and your com­mu­nity safe.”

His cam­paign has since re­turned to form, and one re­cent text ex­co­ri­ated for­mer New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, whom Trump nick­named “Mini Mike,” for us­ing a pro­vi­sion in cam­paign fi­nance law to trans­fer $18 mil­lion left­over from his aban­doned pres­i­den­tial cam­paign to the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

Trump cam­paign spokes­woman Kayleigh McE­nany didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

On Satur­day, the Bi­den and Trump cam­paigns sent out mul­ti­ple fundrais­ing re­quests over email and text.

Bi­den asked for $5 while sug­gest­ing that Trump’s early min­i­miz­ing of the virus means it “will hit all of us harder than it oth­er­wise might have, and it will take us longer to re­cover.”

Trump sent out an email with the sub­ject line: “LET’S CRUSH IT.” The email asked sup­port­ers to “keep Amer­ica great” and sug­gested that do­na­tions would help block “rad­i­cal SO­CIAL­ISTS like Crazy Bernie or Quid Pro Joe gain an ounce of mo­men­tum.”

San­ders has earned praise for turn­ing to his army of small­dol­lar donors to raise $3.5 mil­lion for virus re­lief in­stead of his cam­paign. The sen­a­tor, whose cam­paign is fu­eled by grass­roots on­line donors, has stopped send­ing out fundrais­ing emails.

“Right now my fo­cus is on this ex­tra­or­di­nary cri­sis,” San­ders told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Wed­nes­day, af­ter declining to dis­cuss the fu­ture of his cam­paign.

Bloomberg also shelved plans to lever­age his bil­lions of dol­lars of per­sonal wealth to run an out­side group aimed at pre­vent­ing Trump’s re-elec­tion. In­stead, he re­cently pro­moted a $40 mil­lion phil­an­thropic ef­fort aimed at cur­tail­ing the spread of the virus.

Demo­cratic fundrais­ers are op­ti­mistic that a de­gree of nor­malcy will re­turn even­tu­ally. That will be a ben­e­fit to Bi­den.

Trump, as the in­cum­bent, con­trols the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, giv­ing him a ma­jor fundrais­ing edge Bi­den lacks be­cause he is not the nom­i­nee. Fundrais­ing com­mit­tees con­trolled by po­lit­i­cal par­ties take in mas­sive sums for can­di­dates, such as Trump, with whom they have joint agree­ments.

The DNC does not yet have a sim­i­lar ar­range­ment with Bi­den. His sup­port­ers are lay­ing the ground­work for when it does.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

As he tries to pivot from the pri­maries to the gen­eral cam­paign, for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, the likely Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, lacks Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s cash re­serves, with the race es­sen­tially frozen by the pan­demic.

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