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Mayor Pete Buttigieg Returns To Mass. To Raise His Profile — And More Money04:22
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2020 Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a town hall meeting, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)
2020 Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a town hall meeting, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Massachusetts may not hold the political cache of early primary states like New Hampshire or Iowa. But it does have what presidential candidates want: politically active residents who aren’t afraid to open up their deep pockets.

“Massachusetts is a mecca for campaign money,” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh. “We’re everybody’s ATM.”

The state has been fertile campaign fundraising ground for Democratic presidential candidates, including the current leader in the second-quarter cash race: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

This weekend alone, Buttigieg — known as "Mayor Pete" due to his tongue-twisting last name — is making multiple stops in the Bay State to raise his profile and lots of cash in Provincetown, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.

The fundraisers range from big-ticket events where the price of entry is $2,800 — the maximum individual campaign among for federal elections — to small-dollar grassroots fundraisers, to other free campaign events.

The goal is to build a broad base of support from mill workers to millionaires. That, supporters say, will give him strong financial footing to stay in the race as he works to raise his profile and tackle some of the serious political obstacles he faces in his bid for the Oval Office — like his failure to draw support from voters of color and his handling of the fallout from a fatal police shooting of a black man in South Bend.

He's not the only hopeful passing through Massachusetts. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris are among others who have visited. But Buttigieg has found a particularly friendly and generous audience in the Hub.

“This guy is the real deal,” said Bryan Rafanelli, a Boston-based event planner and major Democratic donor who is hosting his fourth fundraiser for Buttigieg in Provincetown on Friday. “He’s wildly impressive, highly intelligent. But the way he can actually process information and ideas and policy and speak to a crowd is something I have not seen since President Obama.”

Rafanelli, who backed Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election and planned Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, met Buttigieg earlier this year through a friend who works on his campaign. After one conversation, Rafanelli said, he was a believer.

“I agreed to do a fundraiser," Rafanelli said. “I sent out maybe 800 invitations and within three days the entire event sold out.”

Rafanelli added another event which, too, sold out.

“I was pretty blown away myself about this idea of people wanting to meet him — and immediately contribute by the way, which is a little bit of a phenomenon,” Rafanelli said.

These events and others in Massachusetts, hosted by party bigwigs like Rafanelli, prominent businessman Jack Connors Jr., and former DNC chairman and state treasurer Steve Grossman, have helped Buttigieg raise a healthy chunk of the $24.8 million he raised in the second quarter of this year. That's more than any other Democrat in the race so far, and far more than the $7 million Buttigieg raised in the prior three months.

He even bested Biden, who pulled in $21.5 million last quarter, despite Biden's superior name recognition and strong political organization.

Official fundraising numbers won’t be released by the Federal Election Commission until after the official July 15 deadline, so no state-by-state breakdown is available yet.

But Rafanelli said: “$24 million is nothing to sneeze at. And I’m proud to be a part of a couple of million of that.”

Political experts say it’s no surprise Buttigieg has spent so much time in Massachusetts. Aside from its donors, the state has all the elements to be a fundraising goldmine with its close proximity to New Hampshire, its savvy and energized Democratic voter base, and its strong support for LGBTQ issues and candidates.

“There are a lot of people here in Massachusetts who would like to see the first gay president be elected,” Marsh said of Buttigieg, who is vying to become the first openly gay president in history.

Massachusetts also the home of one of Buttgieg’s biggest Democratic rivals: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Buttigieg’s fundraising blitz stands in direct contrast to Warren’s decision to eschew big-money donors and corporate cash in her bid for the White House.

Both approaches come with their benefits and drawbacks, experts said. Democratic strategist Brad Bannon said Buttigieg risks blowback from party progressives who will be turned off by a candidate who accepts cash from big-money donors.

"It’s good to have the money, but you pay a political price for raising it," Bannon said.

But forgoing bigger fundraisers like Warren has also could be a gamble, Bannon said. Warren still has strong fundraising chops through her outreach to small-dollar donors, he said, but her campaign also has a high burn rate as she funds operations in all the early primary states. Warren hasn’t yet released her latest fundraising numbers.

Some donors fear that Democratic candidates, including Warren, have shifted too far to the left, making Buttigieg an attractive alternative.

"Some big donors are looking for a moderate candidate because they feel a moderate candidate has a better chance at beating Trump, someone like Mayor Pete," Bannon said.

Rafanelli said the winning candidate has to appeal to all parts of the party.

"This isn’t a campaign of big, big money. This is a campaign of everybody," Rafanelli said. "And if I can use my good fortune to fuel a campaign to get this guy elected, I’m glad I’m invited."

This segment aired on July 4, 2019.

Kimberly Atkins Twitter Senior News Correspondent
Kimberly Atkins is a senior news correspondent for WBUR, covering national political news from Washington, D.C., with a New England focus.

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