As the once-broad 2020 Democratic primary field condenses, four potential front-runners have pushed ahead: Progressive darlings Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Wall Street favorites former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. But while Biden still leads in the polls, when it comes to opening hearts (and wallets) of business leaders across America, Buttigieg is shining.
“Buttigieg isn’t a fall back for people, he’s running a remarkable campaign and he’s doing well in Iowa,” said Robert M. Shrum, director of the Center for the Political Future and the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
“His appeal is decidedly generational and now that he’s a viable candidate people are going to gravitate towards him, much like they did with former President Barack Obama,” he said. “He’s very smart, very young and articulate. He has an appeal to these folks and I think they believe correctly that he really understands the new age that’s coming in terms of technology.”
Buttigieg caused controversy this week when Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg confirmed that he had emailed the mayor and his team resumes for campaign positions. The pair overlapped during their time at Harvard and have a number of mutual friends.
In Silicon Valley, the former McKinsey consultant has attended fundraisers hosted on his behalf by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Nest Labs co-founder Matt Rogers, and Chelsea Kohler, director of product communications at Uber.
Buttigieg has also racked up donations from a number of top Facebook executives, as well as Scott Belsky, chief product officer at Adobe, and Wendy Schmidt, the wife of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. He leads the 2020 field in the amount of online donations he’s received online from California tech employees. Biden, meanwhile, didn’t crack the top five.
“Pete is a clean slate for the party in ways Biden can’t be,” Cyrus Radfar, a technology entrepreneur and Democratic donor, told Bloomberg News. “There’s new life and new energy that Pete brings, especially as the base of the Democratic Party is getting younger. I think he’s going to be on the national stage for a long time.”
Democratic strategist Brad Bannon has similar ideas.
“Silicon Valley and Wall Street thought Biden was going to be the one to stop Warren or Sanders from being the nominee,” he said. “But corporate types who have supported Biden have come to the conclusion that they need someone else, or they’ve retired. Now people like Zuckerberg are leading the way and they’re looking for a new moderate, business-friendly candidate because they don’t think Biden is going to make it to the finish line. In Buttigieg, they’ve found a young attractive rising candidate to be the anti-Warren.”
James Murdoch, the multi-billionaire son of Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch, announced his support for Buttigieg at the Vanity Fair conference on Wednesday.
“I think Mayor Buttigieg seems to have the composure, the character, and the thoughtfulness to handle some of the hardest challenges that we have, but we have to see how it all plays out,” he said. “My wife and I have both been very enthusiastic about his leadership, but also about a new generation of leaders… The generation that’s been in power for a while now has really not delivered on a variety of issues.”
Buttigieg, meanwhile, has been making himself known to the Wall Street set. The combat veteran out-raised all of his political rivals in Connecticut during the third quarter of this year, according to Federal Elections Commission filings. Connecticut is the wealthiest state in the U.S., largely because of its large concentration of Wall Street and Hedge Fund luminaries.
Buttigieg raised $247,181 in the state, compared with Biden’s $151,487. Buttigieg also raised about $25,000 this quarter from executives at Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and hedge funds like Bridgewater.
Wall Streeters may be hedging their bets on Biden by backing Buttigieg, said Shrum, but they’re not giving up on Biden just yet.
“Some people are saying ‘I like Buttigieg. He’s new young, fresh and seems like a center-left figure who’s also pragmatic’ and there are others who are saying ‘wait a minute in every poll Biden has the best chance to beat Trump and we want to beat Trump.’”
In the past month, Biden attended at least two fundraisers thrown in his honor by New York bigwigs, including Jack Rosen, the CEO of real estate firm Rosen Partners and president of the American Jewish Congress, and David Solomon, a partner at investment firm Hildred Capital Partners. Both sold tickets for up to $2,800.
Joe Trippi, a political strategist who ran campaigns for Alabama Senator Doug Jones and 2004 presidential hopeful Howard Dean, still thinks Wall Street backs Biden but that they’re looking to Buttigieg as the future of the Democratic party.
“A lot of people think he has a big future and they want to see him do well whether they think he can be the president or not,” he said. “I know a lot of people who are giving money to him and someone else. They want to support his future political career.”
Still, Trippi added, people felt the same way about Obama until he won in the 2008 Iowa Democratic Presidential Caucus.
“There were a lot of people who loved Obama, but weren’t sure until that point,” Trippi said. “The same could be the case for Buttigieg.”
A new Iowa State University/Civiqs poll out Thursday put Buttigieg in second place in the politically influential state, eight points behind frontrunner Warren. Biden came in fourth place, behind Sanders.
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