Pete Buttigieg. Picture: AFP/LOGAN CYRUS
Pete Buttigieg. Picture: AFP/LOGAN CYRUS

San Francisco/Los Angeles/Washington — Even before his top-two finish in Iowa, Pete Buttigieg was a favourite of Hollywood heavyweights who have been showering him with cash. But some industry insiders are looking beyond 2020 as they make a long-term investment in the young candidate’s career.

The openly gay former mayor of a small city is raking in more money from the entertainment industry than any of his rival Democratic presidential candidates, but has yet to rack up voter support in California, the state with the biggest delegate haul, which votes on March 3.

Buttigieg’s campaign is enjoying new energy after essentially tying with Bernie Sanders in Iowa and is favoured to place in the top tier in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary.

But the path ahead is rockier. He has had trouble attracting black voters and faces the next two contests in Nevada, with a heavy Latino population, and South Carolina, where a majority of the Democratic electorate is black.

“People see him as a rising star of the Democratic Party,” said Bill Carrick, a Los Angeles-based Democratic strategist, who has advised senator Dianne Feinstein, among others. “They think he has a bright future, whether through higher statewide office or a role in a Democratic administration. He’s created real buzz in the donor world.”

Buttigieg raised $640,000 in 2019 from such marquee names as Sharon Stone, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bradley Whitford, David Geffen, Jennifer Aniston, John Stamos, George Takei, Ellen DeGeneres, Candice Bergen and Jon Landau.

By comparison, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, Joe Biden raised $449,000 in 2019, Sanders brought in $368,000 and Elizabeth Warren garnered $287,000.

“Anyone would be thrilled to raise as much money as Pete is raising in Hollywood,” said Hope Warschaw, a longtime Democratic fundraiser in Los Angeles.

Buttigieg has also been the beneficiary of large campaign donations from Silicon Valley in northern California, where contributors see someone like them.

The largesse bestowed on the Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar and Afghanistan veteran has failed to lift him into strong contention for California’s real prize: the more than 400 delegates to be awarded on Super Tuesday, about a 10th of the total needed for the nomination.

Buttigieg polled at just 7% of likely California voters in a survey by University of California-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies last month, the latest available. That compares with 26% for Sanders, 20% for Warren and 15% for Biden. Buttigieg’s success in Iowa may boost him among moderates backing Biden, who finished fourth in Iowa.

Despite a widely publicised endorsement from actor Kevin Costner, Buttigieg hasn’t locked up electoral support in Hollywood, said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a human-rights activist whose husband, Cliff, ran a fundraising event for California senator Kamala Harris before she dropped out of the presidential race.

“I don’t think the entertainment industry is monolithic,” Gilbert-Luri said. “A lot of people are thinking about Biden because they consider him most electable. Others are thinking about [Amy] Klobuchar and [Michael] Bloomberg. More young people are still excited about Warren and Buttigieg. And Bernie’s numbers are high.” (Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

Hollywood donors seem to be willing to wait for the sequel. Many acknowledge they don’t believe he will be elected president this year. Rather, they say, they hope he will be on the national stage for years to come, and they’re eager to support his career.

“A lot of people like the idea of Pete and are willing to be financially supportive, but they have doubts about whether he can win,” Carrick said. “Also, California is big, diverse and complicated, and he hasn’t gotten widely known enough to get traction among voters.”

Buttigieg has been spending ample time in the state. He was in Los Angeles in December for his latest fundraising visit, appearing at an event co-hosted by Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated director of movies such as Precious and creator of the hit television show Empire.

Buttigieg also held a $2,800-per-person December fundraiser in Los Angeles run by three members of his “investors circle” — people who have raised at least $25,000 for his campaign. On the same December swing, the candidate attended a Beverly Hills event hosted by David Nathanson, a media executive who’s on the board of The FanDuel Group fantasy sports company.

“We need a new face to represent our party — a leader who is smart, moral, dynamic, engaged and representative of all Americans,” Nathanson said at the event. Buttigieg, he said, “fits that bill”.

His Democratic rivals have hit him recently for his high-dollar donors, with Sanders supporters creating the hashtag #PetesBillionaires. Some Hollywood donors are playing the field, also giving money to other Democratic candidates. DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and his wife, Marilyn, for instance, gave Buttigieg the couple maximum of $5,600 — and did the same for 13 other Democratic candidates, including the front-runners.

Bloomberg