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From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, and former housing secretary Julian Castro appear on stage before the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas.
From left, Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), former tech executive Andrew Yang, former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke, and former housing secretary Julian Castro appear on stage before the start of the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas. (Justin Sullivan / TNS)

As the campaign donors sipped cocktails at a tony Baltimore County restaurant, the man they had come to see — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden — sat in heavy traffic along Interstate 95 because of a tractor-trailer accident.

The former vice president eventually had to cancel last month’s meet-and-greet with 115 monied Democrats at the Citron restaurant in Pikesville. But he said he very much wants to reschedule for later in the year.

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“I was really looking forward to spending some time with you,” Biden told the group by phone.

Because of its late primary and relatively small size, Maryland does not typically attract presidential candidates for campaign rallies. But there is more than enough wealth and political activism in the state to lure candidates for fundraisers.

The events are often held in exclusive settings — such as Citron’s intimate lakeside space — or in donors’ homes where supporters might pay a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to a campaign.

The wealthy Washington suburbs of Chevy Chase and Potomac are hot spots for such activity, but the Baltimore area is a significant source of cash as well, especially for Democrats.

A tour of Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris' national campaign headquarters in downtown Baltimore.

“Maryland is a stop on the Democratic fundraising circuit because we have very engaged donors and because of our proximity to D.C.,” said Baltimore-based Democratic strategist and media consultant Martha McKenna.

Biden, who is among the front-runners in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination but has seen his early advantage in the polls slip, has held several fundraisers in Maryland this year.

Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and California Sen. Kamala Harris – whose national campaign headquarters is in downtown Baltimore — also have attended fundraisers in the state.

Two other top-tier candidates — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont — have said they won’t participate in big-dollar fundraising events, although both have had online success attracting small donors from Maryland.

Democrats hold a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans in the state, and there is less noticeable fundraising activity on the GOP side. But nationally, President Donald Trump, a Republican, and the committees supporting him have been raising record amounts.

In Maryland, investment company executive and philanthropist Jeffrey A. Legum of Baltimore County is among Trump’s largest donors, according to online Federal Election Commission records.

“Maryland is a stop on the Democratic fundraising circuit because we have very engaged donors and because of our proximity to D.C.”


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This year, Legum — the former owner of a string of automobile dealers — contributed the maximum of $2,800 to Trump for the 2020 primary and another $2,800 for the general election.

Like many CEOs, he said he has donated to candidates of both parties.

“I contribute on both sides,” Legum said. “I try to vote pro-business people. I just don’t like to have my taxes raised, so I guess in that instance I vote my pocketbook.”

Other large Trump donors in the state include Richard Musser ($2,800), president of Chinquapin Contracting in Baltimore; John Dwyer ($2,800), founder of Capital Funding Group of Baltimore; and Christopher Payne ($2,800), an official with the Steamship Trade Association of Baltimore, according to FEC records.

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Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, chair of the Maryland Democratic Party, said opposition to Trump might drive state Democrats to raise particularly large sums of money for the 2020 election.

Trump has attacked Baltimore as “corrupt” and called sections of the city “disgusting, rat and rodent infested.”

“Marylanders are pumped up against Trump. I think they feel an aversion to this man,” Cummings said. “As one of the wealthiest states in the nation, Maryland — in addition to having enthusiasm — has the pockets to support it.”

Cummings said some donors might be attracted because “there is a lot of dynamism in the race right now" but others might remain on the sidelines or wait until the race is more settled.

For instance, such big Baltimore names as Under Armour founder Kevin Plank and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti have contributed both to Democratic and Republican candidates or committees in the past. But neither has yet donated to a 2020 presidential contender, according to FEC filings.

Baltimore businessman Edward St. John and Legg Mason founder Raymond A. “Chip” Mason each contributed to Trump in 2016, but aren’t listed as contributing to a presidential candidate this year. Each has also given to Democratic candidates in the past.

Biden’s Baltimore County fundraiser last month was organized by Bill Miller, founder of the Baltimore investment firm Miller Value Partners. Miller was unavailable to comment, an official at the firm said. The Biden campaign said it does not yet have a date for the rescheduled event.

According to the FEC, Biden’s prominent Maryland contributors this year include MedStar Health executive David Mayer ($5,600); Montgomery County developer Brendan O’Neill Jr. ($5,600); and Andrew Pantelis ($2,800), an Annapolis-based firefighters international union official.

Special Olympics chairman Timothy Shriver — a nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy — held a fundraiser in Montgomery County for Biden this summer, as did David Seldin, an executive with a venture capital firm, according to state Sen. James Rosapepe, a Biden supporter.

Rosapepe said Marylanders have a natural familiarity with Biden, the former Delaware senator. ”He’s a guy that went to work every day on the train through Maryland, and he comes from the far Eastern Shore — it’s called Delaware,” Rosapepe said.

Harris has a local connection after locating her campaign headquarters in Baltimore this year.

Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke and his wife, Patricia, helped host a fundraiser for Harris last month.

FEC records show Schmoke, president of the University of Baltimore, gave Harris $2,800 in June. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Harris’ other Maryland contributors include McKenna ($1,000) and former Clinton administration Justice Department official Jamie Gorelick ($1,000).

Buttigieg appeared at a July fundraiser in Riverdale Park in Prince George’s County. His state donors include Eli Cohen ($5,600), a Montgomery County-based executive with an investment advisory firm; former state Del. Dick D’Amato ($1,000); and McKenna ($500).

Maryland has 79 Democratic delegates and 38 Republican delegates to the party conventions, less than half the number of heavyweights such as California, New York, Texas and Florida.

The Democratic presidential candidates are devoting most of their time to key early states. The Iowa caucuses are in February along with primaries in New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. Trump is expected to win the Republican nomination, although former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh are challenging him. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, also a Republican, flirted with a primary challenge but decided not to run.

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Dozens of states will have weighed in by the time Maryland holds its primary April 28. But McKenna says the Democratic presidential candidates shouldn’t write off the state.

“If we end up with a tightly contested nomination process, Maryland could be important,” she said.

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