WASHINGTON — Florida Democrat Andrew Gillum is set to address top Democratic Party donors gathered in Washington amid speculation he's considering a 2020 presidential bid.
The Tallahassee mayor is fresh off a close loss in the Florida governor's race. Party officials confirm Gillum is the surprise speaker at a closed gathering of about 300 donors huddling Tuesday in a Washington hotel.
Despite his loss in the governor's race to Republican Ron DeSantis, Gillum is among the young Democratic Party liberals who excited party activists nationally.
The Democratic National Committee's finance gathering includes major donors from the 2018 midterms and former donors that party leaders hope will re-emerge as key financial supporters. The DNC is trying to close its considerable fundraising deficit with the Republican National Committee at the same time that an unusually large group of potential presidential candidates competes for the limited resources among top donors on the left.
Besides Gillum, the event also features rising party stars who have won key races for Democrats. The agenda includes Nevada Sen.-elect Jacky Rosen, who ousted Republican Dean Heller; Georgia Rep.-elect Lucy McBath, who flipped a GOP-held seat in the Atlanta suburbs; Massachusetts Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, a liberal favorite who scored a primary upset over Rep. Mike Capuano; and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who will lead the Democratic Governors Association in 2020.
DNC Chairman Tom Perez opened the session by calling the recent midterm elections "historic," as Democrats regained control of the House while flipping seven governor's seats, securing a majority of state attorneys general and gaining more than 300 state legislative seats. Still, Perez cautioned donors that Democrats must build out party infrastructure ahead of the next election cycle.
Party finances have been a source of consternation for Perez since he won the chairmanship in February 2017, when the party had debts of more than $4 million and a cash balance of $10.5 million, compared with a Republican Party balance sheet with no debt and $25.3 million on hand.
Perez dismissed his first finance director months into the job, even as aides noted that the fundraising haul outpaced previous non-election years, including when Barack Obama was in the White House.
Since the start of the 2018 cycle, the DNC has reported $126.3 million in individual contributions. That's more than the $95.9 million collected during the 2016 presidential cycle — when Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign was the driving financial force on the left — but less than the $155.5 million the DNC raised for the 2014 midterms.
As of the end of November, Perez had whittled party debt down to less than $3 million, with a cash balance of $10.4 million, essentially the same as when he was elected chairman.
Perhaps a more jarring comparison: The RNC collected $226.1 million from individuals during the 2018 cycle. The debt-free GOP boasted a $27 million balance.
To some degree, the DNC shortfalls are a function of how the two parties have evolved. Republicans centralize more of their efforts at party headquarters, while Democrats are more splintered. Democrats' House campaign committee, for example, far outraised its GOP counterpart during the midterm campaign, and individual Democratic campaigns for House and Senate consistently outraised Republican incumbents and challengers.
Perez also notes the DNC's investments in every state party, along with targeted spending on field staff that helped score upsets such as Alabama Sen. Doug Jones' 2017 special election win. But the fundraising lag still limits the DNC's overall footprint.