Democrats shift fundraising strategies amid coronavirus crisis in bid to beat Trump and GOP

Democrats looking to defeat President Donald Trump and Republicans in November are shifting their fundraising strategies as the coronavirus impacts the 2020 election. 

The virus has spread to all 50 states and the District of Columbia with over 13,000 cases nationwide and at least 176 deaths. 

Bundlers helping to raise campaign cash for former Vice President Joe Biden are encouraging potential new donors to sign up for future in-person events as a way to get them to contribute now. The campaign is also looking to hold virtual fundraisers, though one has already been postponed

“I think that, while it would be better to hold in-person gatherings to garner a certain excitement factor, those who want to give will do so with the promise of later events when possible to hold them,” Alan Patricof, a Biden bundler and founder of investment firm, Greycroft, told CNBC on Friday. 

Former Ambassador Rufus Gifford, for one, had planned to co-host an event this week in New York. He decided to postpone to a future date rather than hosting a virtual fundraiser. But he’s asking donors to pony up now. 

“We opted not to do a virtual version of my event,” Gifford told CNBC recently. “I think I’m going to try and do a larger-tiered gay event when things open back up, assuming that’s an option. I just think it makes sense to do something larger sometime in the spring.”

Biden’s loyal fundraisers are also using Trump’s response to the coronavirus as a way to raise money.

Jon Henes, a partner at legal juggernaut Kirkland & Ellis, sent an email calling on donors to back Biden in the midst of the pandemic. “We are in unprecedented and distressing times as we face COVID-19 and the economic impact laying in its wake,” Henes said in the memo, first reviewed by CNBC. “At a time when we need true presidential leadership, we are getting very little.” 

The email included a video from the website The Recount, which spliced together moments when Trump downplayed the significance of the virus. Henes has been organizing a group of corporate restructuring attorneys to help raise money for Biden.

Though many of Biden’s bundlers do not foresee fundraising issues for the campaign, strategists said the former vice president and other Democrats could run into problems raising cash. 

“I think fundraising will dry up. No one has enough sympathy for politicians to fund them ahead of making payroll or supporting their families,” Brad Tusk, a founder of political consulting firm, Tusk Strategies, and a close ally of Mike Bloomberg, told CNBC.

He also warned that Biden “better be really nice to [Mike] Bloomberg,” the billionaire who dropped out of the presidential primary earlier this month, in case he does run into fundraising trouble. 

Bloomberg’s campaign on Friday said it would pile $18 million into the Democratic National Committee’s coffers.

Biden is still in a primary battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has committed to shifting all of his town halls to a virtual platform as well. Sanders has been focusing most of his small dollar fundraising efforts on forms of digital outreach since he started running for president last year.  Sanders is currently behind Biden in the delegate count after losing primaries this week in Florida, Illinois and Arizona. 

Beyond the Democrats running for president, the Democratic National Committee has also taken steps to focus on virtual outreach for fundraising and get out the vote efforts. 

The DNC is hosting online digital training sessions as a way to share best practices with state parties and other groups organizing supporters and volunteers. Over 2,300 individuals have signed up so far, and more training sessions are being added every week, a DNC aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The courses focus on resources and tools that are available from the DNC right now, including online community groups on Facebook and Mobilize America, an online events organizing tool. The committee is planning virtual fundraising events that will take place in the coming weeks.

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee have suspended all of their in-person events and are focusing on digital fundraising, direct mail and staying connected with donors over the phone. Virtual fundraising events are being scheduled. 

Candidates in the GOP-controlled Senate are also shifting to digital strategies. Democrats are trying to flip the Senate after losing seats during the 2018 congressional midterm elections. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has canceled all events through April 24 and will make a scheduling decision for gatherings set for after the date, a committee aide told CNBC. 

Senate Democratic primaries from Maine to South Carolina are going virtual, too.

Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, who is running in the primary for the chance to face GOP Sen. Susan Collins in November, hosted a virtual town hall on Thursday after she postponed in-person events. 

During the event, Gideon called for urgent federal action to support the medical response to COVID-19 by expanding the amount of tests available nationwide and moving to ensure that medical personnel have all the resources they need. 

Jaime Harrison, who is running against Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, held a virtual town hall last Friday on Facebook. 

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