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Dazzled by a big field, home-state donors are slow to support Elizabeth Warren and others

Senator Elizabeth Warren waited to be introduced during a campaign stop Saturday in Mason City, Iowa.Stephen Maturen/Getty Images/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Sandra Anagnostakis, a mostly retired agricultural scientist who lives in Waltham, loves Senator Elizabeth Warren — so much so, she sent her $1,000 for her Senate reelection campaign last fall.

But that doesn’t mean she is giving to Warren’s Democratic presidential bid. Instead, Anagnostakis, 80, donated $1,000 to a candidate she sees as a fresher face: Senator Kamala Harris of California.

“I like her,” Anagnostakis said, “and I see her as the more electable candidate.”

Warren’s early fund-raising numbers reveal a problem she shares with other candidates: Even her most natural constituency, home-state donors who enthusiastically backed her most recent in-state run, are hardly flocking en masse to support her presidential bid, and some have already decided to support her opponents. That could spell more money trouble for the Massachusetts senator, who lagged her top rivals in collecting campaign cash in the first three months of the year, perhaps because of her unconventional fund-raising approach.

According to a Globe analysis, many of the big donors from Warren’s Senate reelection — those who gave $1,000 or more — have yet to donate significantly to her presidential bid, suggesting she has more work to do to convince her biggest home-state supporters to ignore her 20-plus rivals and come aboard her presidential campaign.


Presidential candidates are expected to have a certain advantage in their home states, but a donor’s support of a candidate in a state election is certainly not a guarantee they will back them for president, especially in a wide field.

Some of Warren’s Senate donors who have gone on to support other presidential candidates said they preferred her in her current job, or expressed concerns that her achievements in Massachusetts would not translate to success in a nationwide race.

Of the 1,216 Massachusetts residents who gave $1,000 or more to Warren’s Senate reelection campaign in 2017 and 2018, just 129 donated at least $200 to Warren’s presidential campaign during the first quarter of this year, and of those, 14 also donated at least that to another candidate. Forty-six of her big reelection donors gave at least $200 to another candidate instead of backing Warren.


Source: Federal Election Commission. Only donors who gave at least $1,000 in previous Senate campaigns and at least $200 to a presidential campaign are included.SAURABH DATAR/GLOBE STAFF

Which candidate benefited the most from these defections? Harris, who poached the most contributions of at least $200 from Warren’s former donor base, raising about $36,000 total from 17 donors. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Bernie Sanders were next, with nine each.

The figures are only estimates. The Globe matched donors based on the exact names and addresses listed in campaign reports, but those sometimes vary from one campaign report to another.

Still, the defections from Warren — and the sheer number of donors to her Senate race who have yet to back her now — may say more about Democratic donors still weighing their many options in a historically crowded primary than a lack of enthusiasm for her in her home state. Beto O’Rourke and Harris also lost some of their donors to rivals in the first quarter and have still only attracted donations from a fraction of the people who gave to their most recent Senate runs.

But Warren’s decision to forgo courting large donors altogether puts her at a disadvantage to her rivals, who are making their case to undecided wealthy donors in private fund-raisers in Warren’s backyard. Warren swore off fund-raisers and calling wealthy donors to ask for money in February. She raised $6 million in the January-through-March period, well behind Sanders, Harris, O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg.


Last week, Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., held a “grass-roots fund-raiser” in Somerville, a city where 87 percent of residents voted for Warren’s Senate reelection, and attended private fund-raisers in Boston (donations from those events did not show up in campaign finance filings for the first quarter, which ended before they took place). And in February, several prominent Bostonians, including former attorney general Martha Coakley, held a fund-raiser for Harris.

Sean Curran, one of the cohosts of the Harris event, said he intends to give to Warren, too, but is spreading his money among multiple candidates. He said he was not put off by Warren’s ban on private fund-raisers, but acknowledged it carries significant risk.

“I think it’s very brave, I just hope it’s not something that proves to be a self-created hurdle,” Curran said.

With an enormous field and the Iowa caucuses still nine months away, many big Democratic donors across the country are still holding tight to their pocketbooks as they make up their minds, or giving to multiple candidates.

Still, the early fund-raising numbers offer a glimpse of Warren’s support in a place that is both her home state and a significant source of high-rolling Democratic donors for all candidates — some of whom may already be disinclined to support Warren because of her broadsides against Wall Street and the ultrawealthy, or because she has sworn off the typical efforts to draw in major donors.


“If you don’t call these people or have people calling these people then you aren’t going to get them to donate to you unless they know you already,” said Vincent Frillici, a national finance director for former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd’s unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign.

Warren isn’t alone in losing home-state donors to the fierce competition of this primary. In the first quarter of this year, O’Rourke convinced only about 750 of his approximately 8,500 big donors from Texas to chip in at least $200 to his presidential bid, losing dozens to Senator Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and Gillibrand.

About 350 of Harris’s more than 3,000 earlier backers gave to her bid, with many giving to Senator Cory Booker and Gillibrand.

But the pools of wealthy donors for O’Rourke and Harris are far bigger than Warren’s, meaning the candidates raked in significantly more cash than her altogether. Overall, Harris quadrupled Warren’s performance among large donors — those who gave $200 or more — in the first quarter of the year. Warren’s campaign believes growing its small-donor base is a more sustainable way to finance a campaign, and forgoing fancy fund-raisers frees up the candidate to interact more with voters.

Interviews with Democratic donors who gave to Harris after previously supporting Warren at a high level revealed reservations about the Massachusetts senator’s age, time in the public eye, and ability to appeal to a broad swath of the country, as well as enthusiasm for Harris, who is the first black woman to run for president since Shirley Chisholm in 1972.


“She’s a terrific senator,” Courtney Cazden, an emerita professor of education at Harvard, said of Warren in an e-mail. “But there are now many younger and more diverse candidates for Democratic presidential nomination, and I’m supporting Kamala Harris, a woman of color.”

Anagnostakis, the retired agricultural scientist, said she thought Harris could ultimately build a bigger coalition than Warren, in part because the California senator is newer to voters.

“People in the heartland, if you will, have seen so much of Warren that they’ve already formed very negative opinions about her, but have not seen so much of Harris,” Anagnostakis said. “I’d rather have Warren as a senator doing crucial things.”

Miriam Schwartz, a retired investor who lives in Somerville, also donated more than $2,000 to Harris in the first quarter of 2019. She said she has since donated to Warren’s campaign, too, although she expressed some reservations about her candidacy.

“I think we need fresher, younger faces. It’s time to hand the baton over,” said Schwartz, who said she, too, wants Warren to stay in the Senate.

Todd Wallack can be reached at todd.wallack@globe.com. Jess Bidgood can be reached a jess.bidgood@globe.com. Liz Goodwin can be reached at liz.goodwin@globe.com.