Florida billionaire Marsha Laufer, who bundled more than $13 million for Hillary Clinton in 2016, is sitting on the sidelines for 2020 and says she is worried that her Democratic Party is moving too far left.
She fretted about the party’s leftward drift when discussing Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s vow to democratize her presidential campaign with no perks or VIP treatment for big donors.
The move by Ms. Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, upped the ante for the crowded field of Democrats running as opponents of Wall Street and corporate America and champions of the poor and working class.
“I would not like to see the party go to the far left,” Mrs. Laufer told The Washington Times. “I would like to see the party more left of center rather than to the extreme left.”
Mrs. Laufer and her husband, Henry, a mathematics professor who made a fortune running the Renaissance Technologies hedge fund, routinely appear near the top of the donor list for Democratic candidates and liberal causes.
Other Democratic moneymen expressed similar concerns, though they would not go on the record to criticize the pack of presidential hopefuls occupying the far-left lane in the primary race.
One prominent Democratic bundler privately conceded “real concerns” that Ms. Warren and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, who self-identifies as a socialist, were providing fuel for President Trump to make his re-election campaign into a run against socialism.
Several of the more than a dozen Democrats eyeing the race have asked for Mrs. Laufer’s support, but she is not ready to commit.
Ms. Warren hasn’t called.
“It would be very inconsistent with her articulated position,” Mrs. Laufer said. “Her style of campaigning fits her well, and I’m not going to comment on that.”
Though she said she is waiting for the entire Democratic field to emerge before publicly picking her candidate, Mrs. Laufer spoke highly of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who is expected to join the race next month.
“I think what Joe Biden represents is stability of government, truth and values in a traditional sense that people are longing for,” she said.
Upon entering the race, Mr. Biden, 76, will immediately dominate the centrist lane of the Democratic race and become the party’s presumptive front-runner.
Jon Cooper, a Democratic bundler and longtime Biden supporter, said he was not overly concerned about the party’s lurch to the left. But he warned fellow activists not to lose sight of what should be their unifying goal.
“I also want a candidate who can beat President Trump. If we have a candidate who passes every single progressive litmus test but then can’t beat Trump, we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Mr. Cooper, a New York businessman who serves as chairman of the Democratic Coalition, an anti-Trump super PAC.
“I have confidence in the wisdom of Democratic primary voters,” he said.
Democratic voters appear more ready than donors to accept a far-left or socialist candidate.
More than half of the Democrats likely to participate in the Iowa caucuses, the country’s first nominating contest, say they would be satisfied with a presidential candidate who wants the U.S. to be more socialist.
The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll found that 15 percent of likely Democratic caucus voters would be “very satisfied” with a socialist candidate, and 41 percent would be “mostly satisfied.”
A similar share — 43 percent — identified as “socialist” in 2016 when Mr. Sanders’ political movement took hold and Mrs. Clinton eked out an Iowa win by less than 1 percentage point.
“There are a lot of Democrats — not just the donor class — who are concerned about the party moving too far to the left to be electable in November,” said David Yepsen, a former longtime political reporter in Iowa and scholar of presidential campaigns.
“Nominating someone too far to the extreme could be like the Democrats in ’72 or the Republicans in ’64. It’s a good way to lose in a landslide,” he said, referring to the failed candidacies of George McGovern and Barry Goldwater, respectively.
Whether it is concern about electability or purely policy disagreements, far-left candidates such as Ms. Warren threaten to scare off major donors, said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer.
“Warren may absolutely be too far left for big donors, who tend to run more moderate in their politics,” she said. “But if she can offset it with a big enough grassroots fundraising network, who cares?”
Mr. Sanders is flexing the most grassroots muscle so far. He raised more than $10 million in the first week of his campaign, with an average contribution of $27.
Ms. Setzer described a divide in the Democratic Party, with candidates who have grassroots appeal such as Sen. Kamala D. Harris, Mr. Sanders and potentially Beto O’Rourke able to survive with a large volume of small contributions and without support from big donors.
“Others with more moderate politics, and for that reason, less grassroots appeal — [and] I suspect this will be the case for Biden — will have to rely on more traditional fundraising methods,” she said.
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