Politics

Pete Buttigieg sees surge in support from business execs after his strong showing in Iowa

Key Points
  • Pete Buttigieg is seeing increased support from business leaders as he jumps in the polls following a successful showing in the Iowa caucuses.
  • Dozens of executives who have largely remained on the sidelines during the 2020 election cycle have shown increased interest in Buttigieg's presidential campaign over the past week, sources said.
  • Buttigieg is surging while fellow moderate Democrat Joe Biden falters in the early stages of the primary race.
Democratic presidential candidate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg arrives to speak at Merrimack American Legion Post 98 February 06, 2020 in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
Win McNamee | Getty Images

Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg is seeing increased support from business leaders as he jumps in the polls following a successful showing in the Iowa caucuses.

Dozens of executives who have largely remained on the sidelines during the 2020 election cycle have shown increased interest in Buttigieg's presidential campaign over the past week, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter who declined to be named because these conversations were deemed private.

The increased interest in Buttigieg comes as he tries to position himself as the best option among moderate Democratic candidates for the White House, particularly as former Vice President Joe Biden, once a clear front-runner for the nomination, stumbles in the early stages of the primary race. Buttigieg is also polling strongly among New Hampshire Democrats ahead of the state's primary Tuesday.

One new Buttigieg supporter is former Goldman Sachs partner David Heller, who has spoken with members of Buttigieg's bundler operation and has indicated he will back his campaign, these people said.

Heller, an investor in Peloton and a former minority owner in the Philadelphia 76ers, was a key architect during Barack Obama's fundraising operation during his first run for president in 2008. He helped raise up to $500,000 for Obama's initial campaign for the White House, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Another who is leaning toward Buttigieg is former National Association of Manufacturers president and CEO Jerry Jasinowski, these people added. Jasinowski endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and contributed to Obama in 2008.

In the wake of Buttigieg's success in Iowa, the campaign announced it raised more than $2.7 million and attracted more than 22,000 new donors. The addition of some of these business leaders could help Buttigieg gain momentum with fundraisers and have enough cash on hand to successfully compete in the later primary states. He went into 2020 with $14 million on hand, ahead of Biden but behind Sanders. The Iowa Democratic Party allocated the most delegates to Buttigieg in the wake of their caucus debacle last week. The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor acquired 14 delegates, while Sen. Bernie Sanders acquired 12 delegates.

Business leaders heading into Buttigieg's camp believe that the results from the Iowa caucuses show he is the moderate Democratic candidate who is most capable of defeating President Donald Trump. Through conversations with Buttigieg's campaign and his allies, intrigued donors have also becoming increasingly impressed with Buttigieg's political operation.

"Part of what's compelling about Pete is if you're someone who believes that the Democratic success in 2018 is the same math to electable success in 2020, which is winning purple districts, winning suburbs and with a moderate message. We need a voice at the top of the ticket who will appeal to those voters. Pete in that case is my leading guy," said one of the new Buttigieg supporters who declined to be named.

Yet, in national polls, he lags behind other contenders, including Sanders, Biden, former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

While these business leaders are starting to get behind Buttigieg, it's no guarantee they'll completely open up their donor networks to him. Still, people working with the campaign hope it means the campaign will see a fundraising boost in the coming weeks and months.

The Buttigieg campaign declined to comment. Heller and Jasinowski did not return requests for comment.

Biden, Buttigieg and Bloomberg

Buttigieg is drawing some interest from Biden backers, as well. The former vice president finished fourth in Iowa's caucus results and is on track to have another rough night in New Hampshire.

A bundler for Buttigieg's campaign told CNBC that he had received calls from Biden donors who are now inquiring about the former South Bend mayor's campaign. This person spoke on the condition of anonymity since these conversations were deemed private.

"I think it's too early for them to jump ship, but if [Biden] doesn't do well in New Hampshire, I'll be able to get a lot more people on the Pete train," this person said.

Biden and Buttigieg, along with Bloomberg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, are battling for the moderate lane in the Democratic primary. In the wake of his tough showing in Iowa, Biden's campaign pushed out an ad that mock's Buttigieg's record of accomplishments as a mayor of a small city in Indiana compared with the former vice president's national and geopolitical bonafides.

Biden's digital director, Rob Flaherty, tweeted out that the ad had "more views than the population of South Bend." Buttigieg fired back with a slam of his own.

"This isn't 2008, this is 2020. This is how we are going to turn the page and deliver a better future in the country," Buttigieg told Fox News on Sunday.

Not everyone in the business community is sold on Buttigieg's rise, however. Some financiers are keeping an eye on Bloomberg as he skips the early primary states and focuses his resources on the delegate-rich primaries that take place Super Tuesday, March 3. Bloomberg is a billionaire who is self-funding his campaign.

Chamath Palihapitiya, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who wrote a check for Warren last year, is supporting Bloomberg's candidacy. And he hopes to see a joint ticket with Klobuchar.

"I find him [Buttigieg] too scripted and inauthentically robo-charming. I won't be supporting him. I gave some money to Warren in June before Bloomberg was in the race and before I got to know Klobuchar," he told CNBC in an email. "Mike is the most solid, electable candidate in a general election within the Democratic Party process and Klobuchar can win the purple states."

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