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Former Vice President Joe Biden has been reaching out to top Democratic Party donors to discuss possibly running for president in 2020, CNBC has learned.
Biden, 76, has recently signaled to these donors he is leaning toward entering the race, but he had not made a final decision, according to people who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Biden, who is poised to be the frontrunner if he joins the rapidly growing Democratic field, has indicated he is likely to announce his plans in coming weeks, according to people who have been in touch with him, including some of his confidants.
Biden's inner circle has reached out to former staffers from President Barack Obama's administration, and his advisors have been holding conversations about putting together a campaign, according to one person with direct knowledge of the talks.
People close to Biden have also heard from a few donors, as fundraisers are looking to teach Biden's team about the best methods to appeal to online and small donors, according to people involved with the deliberations.
Biden's outreach to these donors has been part of the former vice president's larger effort to get opinions on him running for president from a wide range of supporters. It's unclear what specific questions Biden has been asking the financiers.
Bill Russo, a spokesman for Biden, declined to comment.
These developments are the latest signs that Biden is gearing up for a potential bid to take on President Donald Trump in 2020. Trump's campaign has become a juggernaut in the fundraising battle. Between his campaign and two joint fundraising committees that work in tandem with the Republican National Committee, Trump has brought in almost $130 million over his first two years in office. During the last three months of the year, the three Trump fundraising entities took in a combined $21 million, records show.
Biden would be joining over a dozen of other Democratic candidates who already have a slight head start in raising cash for what will likely be an expensive primary.
These other candidates — including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar — also have a head start in trying to distance themselves from corporate PACs. Instead, they are stressing that they want to depend more on small donors, or people who give $200 and less, in an effort to appeal to the grassroots wing of the Democratic Party.
Klobuchar's campaign on Tuesday announced that she raised $1 million in online and grassroots donations in the 48 hours following her declaration Sunday that she is running.
Biden, on the other hand, has not always had success appealing to small donors.
During his previous run for president in 2008, the then-senator from Delaware raised $13 million, mostly from donors who wrote checks of around $2,300, the most an individual donor could have given to a candidate at the time, according to statistics from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. He raised just over $3.5 million through donors who maxed out their checkbook, compared with the approximately $305,000 he raised from donations of $200 to $499.
His top donors in 2008 came from people employed at Delaware's legal powerhouse Young Conaway, Bank of America, and real estate investment firm the Adler Group, among others. Only 2 percent of his fundraising total came from PACs that year.
When he ran his successful re-election bid in the Senate in 2002, his fundraising efforts reaped $4.1 million but small contributions came in at $446,462.
However, Biden's American Possibilities PAC appears to have found a way to appeal to small donors. From the end of November through December, the committee received donations ranging from $3 through $5,000, according to the PAC's year end Federal Election Commission filing.
That change seems to be in response to the PAC's online presence. The group's top vendor in the 2018 election cycle was Blue State Digital, a technology and digital fundraising platform. It spent over $280,000 on web ads, and $341,200 on campaign strategy and communications consulting, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The group finished the 2018 midterm elections raising $2.6 million and spending $2.5 million.
Even though Biden has yet to enter the race, he still is ahead of his potential Democratic rivals in the polls.
The latest Morning Consult poll has him with a 7-point lead with Democratic Party primary voters. In early primary and caucus states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, he's ahead by 12 points.
Behind him are Sen. Bernie Sanders, Harris and Warren.
The survey involved 11,627 respondents and has a margin of error of plus or minus percentage point. Pollsters for their other survey of early primary participants took place in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina with 527 voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 points.