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Beto O’Rourke is losing donors to Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg

Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg are now among the top fundraisers in the Democratic presidential field — thanks in part to their success in stealing supporters from Beto O’Rourke.

According to a McClatchy analysis of campaign finance reports, Harris and Buttigieg have done a better job than any other candidate in poaching donors from their opponents in the 2020 primary race.

O’Rourke has been the biggest victim, but he’s not alone. Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have all lost more big-dollar donors from their past campaigns than they gained for their White House bids in the first three months of the year, the McClatchy analysis showed.

More than 450 former O’Rourke donors have cut checks for Buttigieg, accounting for roughly one out of every 10 dollars Buttigieg raised from those who gave more than $200. Harris won the support of more than 380 former donors to O’Rourke, netting her campaign more than $350,000.

All told, more than 1,300 former O’Rourke supporters have so far given to other candidates in a race where a crowded field is fiercely competing for a limited pool of big donors.

One of the hundreds of donors who has switched allegiances so far is Chicago financier David Schulte, who backed O’Rourke’s upstart Texas Senate campaign in 2018. Schulte has a new favorite candidate for 2020: he was so struck by Buttigieg’s appearance on MNSBC’s Morning Joe last month that he decided to write the mayor of South Bend, Ind. a $3,000 check on the spot.

“He’s really deft. He’s not some 12 year old with a soapbox,” said Schulte of the 37-year-old Buttigieg, the youngest candidate running. “He’s really smart and a very good politician.”

Meanwhile, Fort Worth trial lawyer Jason Smith says he is all in for Harris in 2020 after donating to O’Rourke’s Senate bid. Smith said he was impressed by the California senator’s ability to connect with people one-on-one when he met her during a Dallas fundraiser hosted by one of her former sorority sisters, and that she has the right experience and ideas to be president.

While Smith hopes O’Rourke will run for statewide office again in Texas, he isn’t sold on his presidential prospects.

“He’s running on adrenaline and hasn’t really thought through why he wants to be president,” Smith said.

Jeff Leuschel, a Dallas attorney and former O’Rourke donor, also wants to see more of the former Texas congressman as a presidential candidate before giving to him again. For now, Leuschel is supporting Harris, saying he thought it was important that she’s won two statewide races.

“Her voice deserves to be heard, and to have your voice heard you need money,” said Leuschel, who attended a Harris fundraiser earlier this year. “Of those who are running, she has a very interesting background.”

John Atkinson, a Chicago insurance executive and major Democratic donor, has financially supported several of the current presidential candidates over the years, including Sens. Sanders of Vermont and Gillibrand of New York, as well as O’Rourke.

But similar to Schulte, Buttigieg won Atkinson over after a CNN town hall in March. Atkinson still gave money to two other contenders, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, but he and his wife Bonnie signed on as a bundler for Buttigieg, pledging to raise big bucks for his campaign.

“From my perspective, he’s the only candidate in the race who’s talking about how to bring the country together,” Atkinson said.

Gillibrand also has suffered in the money race, losing roughly 170 donors to Harris and around 70 donors to Klobuchar.

Stasia Obremskey, who works for a San Francisco social impact investment firm, is a former Gillibrand donor who gave $2,800 to Harris this year. She said that she and her husband, private equity manager Dan Carroll, gave to Harris after one of her fundraisers, but that the couple are still weighing options.

“We have not decided on a final candidate who can beat Trump in 2020,” Obremskey said.

Many of these donors have given to multiple new candidates, or say they still may give to other contenders down the road. Schulte, for instance, said he’s still open to backing other Democrats besides Buttigieg.

“I want to see someone who’s going to win,” Schulte said. “I’m completely open-minded.”

In addition to O’Rourke and Gillibrand, Sanders and Warren are among the other major candidates who lost big-dollar donors to their rivals.

Susan Sheu, a Los Angeles-based writer and progressive activist, donated to Harris’ campaign despite supporting Sanders financially in the last primary. Sheu said she felt that Sanders’ time had past.

“I really wish he would sit down and stop talking,” Sheu said of Sanders, adding that she may give to some of the other female candidates. “I pretty much didn’t love him from the middle of the 2016 primary season onward.”

Fueled by small-dollar donors, Sanders raised the most money overall ($18.2 million) in the first quarter of the year, followed by Harris ($12 million), O’Rourke ($9.4 million) and Buttigieg ($7.1 million). Since then, former Vice President Joe Biden, who many donors were waiting on, also entered the contest. His campaign said he raised $6.3 million during his first 24 hours in the race, the most of any candidate.

Still, Rufus Gifford, who oversaw fundraising for Obama’s 2012 campaign, said no single candidate has pulled away from the rest of the pack with big donors.

“I can’t say that I’m particularly inspired by the case that candidates are making to support them unilaterally,” said Gifford, who has donated to several of the contenders.

Ben Wieder is a data reporter in McClatchy’s Washington bureau. He worked previously at the Center for Public Integrity and Stateline. His work has been honored by the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, National Press Foundation, Online News Association and Association of Health Care Journalists.
Adam Wollner is a political editor for McClatchy’s Washington, D.C. bureau, where he covers the 2020 presidential campaign. Previously, he covered elections and Capitol Hill for National Journal. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.