Mayor Pete Is the Golden State's New Golden Boy

(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, Pool)

California donors are opening their checkbooks bigly for South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Politico reports that this has home state favorite Kamala Harris “blindsided.” Carla Marinucci writes that “no two candidates are crowding each other quite so closely here, or elbowing each other quite so aggressively, in the pursuit of some of the party’s most generous and influential donors.” Apparently Buttigieg’s “rapid rise, appeal to millennial voters and newfound popularity among Hollywood and Silicon Valley donors stands to hinder her ability to lock down her backyard.” And the money game is vital in California, where pricy media buys and an early primary yielding more than 500 delegates offer the biggest benefits to the best-heeled candidates.

CNN reported yesterday that Buttigieg will “headline more than ten fundraisers in California from Wednesday to Friday,” and will collect donations from “Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Whitford, top tech investors and CEOs in Silicon Valley and a top fundraiser for President Barack Obama in the San Diego area.”

History doesn’t actually repeat itself, but it’s been noted that it does sometimes rhyme.

Think back first to 1991. In the heady days after the first Gulf War, George H.W. Bush had a sky-high approval rating of 91 percent and looked absolutely unbeatable going into 1992. As a result, the Democrats’ big names decided to sit that one out and wait for a riper opportunity in 1996. That left enough oxygen for an Arkansas hustler of moderate fame (but endless opportunism) to claim the nomination. Bush’s popularity turned out to be “a mile wide but an inch deep,” and so instead of a President Cuomo, Gephardt, Gore, or Biden, we ended up with President Bill Clinton.

The 2020 Dem field is the most crowded ever, but that could very well prove an advantage to whoever can capture the imaginations of big donors early enough in the game.

Now think back to 2008. That was the year that Hillary Clinton (she also of endless opportunism) seemed to be the candidate to beat. By some reports, Barack Obama considered that year to be little more than a test run for his electability — he was plenty young enough to follow on Presumed Candidate Clinton’s coattails in 2016. But Clinton turned out to be a lousy campaigner, and Obama proved to have the best ground game many had ever seen. And so that test run turned into two terms in the White House.

Today, Joe Biden with his $6.3 million fundraising haul and his 32-point lead over Bernie Sanders, seems like he might just be a shoo-in. But Biden still actually has to run for president, and as history showed us in 1988 (!), he just isn’t very good at it. Twice Biden probably had a decent shot at the nomination (2008 and ’16), but demurred, which makes you wonder if he’s even got the fire in the belly to make a successful run.

So does a 37-year-old mayor of a not-major midwestern berg have real staying power? That’s the question donors don’t seem to be asking, at least not yet. Like Obama in ’08, Buttigieg is running less on policy and experience and more on biography and minority status. That proved twice to be a potent mix.

Behind the scenes at on Tuesday, I was told that a GOP donor of some importance worried about Buttigieg vs. Trump in a way that no other candidate, including Biden, bothered him. I’m not convinced, or at least not yet. Trump is no Bush, McCain, or Romney, and Buttigieg’s private crusade against Vice President Mike Pence has shown him to be annoyingly preachy and a little passive-aggressive. Those are two traits that don’t age well on the campaign trail.

But he still has months to go to polish his image and sharpen his message, and his bio has grabbed the attention of California’s wealthy and influential LGBTQRSTUV donor community. Joe Biden might think his money, name recognition, and connection to Barack Obama put him in the driver’s seat, but this overstuffed clown car of a Dem primary might just give damn near anybody a chance to grab the wheel.