WASHINGTON – White House candidates aren't usually bashful about asking supporters for money.
But as the coronavirus upends everyday life, inundating hospitals, tanking financial markets and putting 3.3 million Americans out of work, President Donald Trump and his likely Democratic rival, Joe Biden, suddenly find themselves navigating perilous terrain.
What used to be a routine request for political cash could now come across as tone-deaf or tacky. The two also run the risk of competing for limited dollars with charities trying to raise money for pandemic relief. With a recession potentially on the horizon, there's a question of whether wealthy donors are in a giving mood and whether grassroots supporters who chip in small amounts will still have the wherewithal to keep at it.
That presents a delicate challenge as both candidates try to stockpile the massive amounts of cash needed for the general election campaign.
“It's hard to have a conversation with someone right now to ask how they're getting by, and then ask them for financial support in the next sentence,” said Greg Goddard, a Democratic fundraiser who worked for Amy Klobuchar's presidential campaign before the Minnesota senator dropped out.
To Tim Lim, a Democratic consultant who worked for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, “it's a world where no one has a good answer.'' He said that “on the fundraising side, we are going to take some massive hits as a party.”
The task is particularly acute for Biden. The former vice president is trying to pivot from the primary to the general election in a race essentially frozen by the virus.
He lacks Trump's reelection cash reserves, which were built up over the past three years of his presidency. Biden also has yet to clinch the nomination and won't be able to do so until postponed primary contests are held in the months ahead.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, his sole remaining 2020 rival, has given no indication that he will back out, despite Biden's virtually insurmountable lead in the delegate race.
The pandemic has put all big-dollar fundraisers on hold, like all in-person political events. That's forced Trump and Biden, for now, to rely on online fundraising.
“It isn't easy for me to ask you for money today,” Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon said in a fundraising email Thursday, seeking contributions as low as $5. “There are so many deserving charities and small businesses in your community where your money makes a huge difference right now. And of course, your own needs and the needs of your family take precedence.”
But, she continued, “we have to keep fundraising because we have to keep campaigning.”