Biden and Buttigieg Fundraising Blitzes Leave Hollywood Pondering Old vs. New

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Joe Biden's and Pete Buttigieg's whirlwind fundraising tours may have shared similar trajectories but they ultimately achieved different outcomes. "Biden is a bona fide celebrity. Mayor Pete doesn't have that sort of recognition," said one political consultant.

On a Thursday morning in a parking lot in East Los Angeles, Jenji Kohan waited patiently for Pete Buttigieg to take the stage. The hard hats and sleeve tattoos of the SEIU members on hand signaled that this wasn’t some glitzy Hollywood fundraiser. It was a free event organized to marshal support for Measure EE, a ballot measure in the June election that if passed would enact a parcel tax to help fund Los Angeles Unified School District. But Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and a surging candidate in the hunt for the Democratic presidential nomination, was the real draw, and Kohan slipped away from her nearby office to get a look.

“I’m running for office as an act of hope,” the 37-year-old Buttigieg told the 400-plus-person crowd that included several middle-aged men wearing T-shirts that read “Boot Edge Edge.” At one point, the former Rhodes Scholar broke into Spanish (he reportedly speaks several languages including Norwegian) thereby matching Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — also a Rhodes Scholar — who introduced Buttigieg after warming up the crowd in Spanish. 

Twenty-four hours earlier, Garcetti was in the same part of town but with an entirely different presidential candidate. The mayor and Joe Biden were wolfing down tacos at King Taco No. 10 in Pico-Union. Biden was on his own fundraising tour, and he used the taco pit stop to meet with regular Angelenos and to give his L.A. jaunt the requisite man-of-the-people photo-op. Throughout the day Biden and Buttigieg crept Westward with multiple stops along the way but bookmarked with high-dollar fundraising events in the evenings. Biden’s was held at the Beverly Hills home of designer Michael Smith and his husband, James Costos, a former U.S. ambassador to Spain. Buttigieg’s event was held at the home of Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Falchuk in Brentwood.

Whirlwind California fundraising tours are becoming de rigueur for the top Democratic candidates. Sen. Kamala Harris has been through town multiple times and is expected back here on May 19 for an event in Hancock Park hosted by Gotham Group’s Ellen Goldsmith Vein. On May 29, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker will be in town for two days to fundraise at several events hosted by industry heavyweights. But Biden and Buttigieg’s L.A. swings were notable because they came within hours of one another. And while they shared certain geographic trajectories, they ultimately achieved different outcomes.

One political operative who was present at events for both candidates summed it up this way: “Biden is a bona fide celebrity, so when he did the taco event people would see him and say, ‘Holy shit, there’s Joe Biden!’ Mayor Pete doesn’t have that sort of recognition. People here are excited about him, but they're still getting to know him.” 

“I was curious about [Buttigieg] and Measure EE,” Kohan told THR after the event finished and Garcetti and Buttigieg worked their way through the crowd shaking hands and taking selfies. Kohan said that she had been very active on the fundraising circuit in recent months but was quick to add that she “hasn’t decided” on whom to fully support.  

The SEIU rally was the second of five events that Buttigieg would be attending on Thursday, and like Biden’s tour, there was a mix of events — some that cost $2,800, others far less — that sent him hop-scotching across town. 

Earlier in the morning Buttigieg attended a breakfast organized by producer Jordan Horowitz. He then was the guest of honor at a lunch in Brentwood that was co-chaired by Jill Goldman and Vicki Kennedy. He then made his way to The Abbey in West Hollywood for an event where tickets went for as low as $25 per person. He then rounded out the day at Paltrow’s house, where he addressed more than 100 attendees and then took questions for more than 30 minutes, according to a source. In addition to Paltrow and Falchuk, Bradley Whitford, Amy Landecker, Sally Yates, Rob Reiner, Costos and Smith, Ambassador Nicole Avant, and Martin Sheen were in attendance, among others.

“It’s incredibly compelling and refreshing to watch a politician who isn’t performing or trying to get reactions,” says Landecker. “Mayor Pete speaks with such a calm and clarity and intelligence that if feels like a salve to your soul in these extremely agitated times. We all stood in the garden listening to him so intently you could hear a pin drop.”