The end of winter is near. And while the north remains frigid, the timing and conditions are ripe for 2020 hopefuls to till the fertile Sunshine State soil for grassroots support and campaign cash.
Hoping to bear early fruit, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris is heading this weekend to South Florida, where she’ll be the first top-tier presidential candidate to campaign in person since the young election season began. On the Gulf Coast, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, from Minnesota, will attend a climate change roundtable in Tampa. Mulling an independent run, Howard Schultz will visit Miami Dade College on Wednesday
Sen. Sherrod Brown would have made four had he not canceled a Friday morning breakfast in Coconut Grove shortly before announcing that he would not seek the presidency.
That’s not to say that 2020 candidates weren’t already blowing up phones in Miami, where some of the Democratic Party’s biggest donors live. “You name ‘em and I’ll tell you which one isn’t trying to meet with me,” says Chris Korge, one of the party’s top bundlers of campaign donations.
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But with Florida’s presidential primary falling two weeks after Super Tuesday in what may still at that point be a wide-open race, contenders are beginning to make their way south in order to establish a presence. Harris’ supporters hope to get ahead of the competition, even as some of the biggest Democratic donors remain unavailable while awaiting decisions from former Vice President Joe Biden and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
“We certainly put in the push to get her here early,” said Kirk Wagar, co-chairman of political consulting firm Mercury and a former U.S. ambassador to Singapore. “Some of it is money and some of it is contact as well. That doesn’t mean she’s going to be doing big rallies. It’s to kind of put a stake in the ground and say I believe in Florida, I believe I can win in the primary and in the general.”
Wagar is among those who will see the senator from California on Sunday as she stops in Wynwood and then Miami Beach, where she’ll host an intimate gathering of large donors at the home of attorney and local lobbyist Alex Heckler. Wagar said Harris will also make a stop in Broward County.
Harris is no stranger to Florida. She helped Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum campaign here in October. But she’s hoping to build her brand early in a state that remains wide open.
About a year away from the Florida primary, three-quarters of the Democratic electorate say they’re undecided when asked an open-ended question about who they’ll support, according to a poll of 300 Democrats conducted early this month by Bendixen & Amandi International. When voters were given a menu of 17 declared and possible candidates, the number of undecided voters dropped below 50 percent. Biden led with 26 percent support, Harris carried 9 percent, and Klobuchar registered with 1 percent.
Some avenues remain closed to many candidates as big names like Biden sit on the fence, keeping donors with him. But money won’t get any easier to raise if Biden and others get into the race. And first-tier candidates still have an opportunity to come away from a South Florida swing with six-figure hauls in the early months, said political consultant Ben Pollara.
“After you pull that initial chunk of change out of here,” he said, “it’s going to be like pulling teeth.”
This article has been updated to reflect that Alex Heckler is a registered as a lobbyist on the local level, and is an attorney.