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Trump heads to San Francisco for fundraiser, but this Bay Area city has already donated more

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Before Donald Trump’s felony conviction raised him $141 million across the country in May, before his swing through San Francisco on Thursday where he’s expected to pull in millions more, another Bay Area city quietly topped his list of donations from Northern California.

It wasn’t the leafy climes of Palo Alto, Portola Valley and Atherton where tech billionaires have filled President Biden’s campaign coffers.

It’s a South Bay city more known for its ranch-style houses and high rents:

San Jose.

The total amount San Jose residents donated to Trump during this election season through April doesn’t seem like much in the big picture — just $237,000 — especially since Trump raked in $53 million in the 24 hours after his May 30th conviction in his hush-money trial involving porn star Stormy Daniels. And it’s less than the $403,000 that Biden raised here during the same time.

But it was enough to land San Jose in the fourth spot of all California cities donating to Trump through April, behind San Diego, Los Angeles and Newport Beach.

“Sure, the billionaires make a lot of the headlines,” said political science professor Melissa Michelson of Menlo College, “but there’s a lot of folks out there at different levels of income who support Donald Trump — and he’s doing a lot of outreach to those folks and asking for donations.”

In the Bay Area’s deep blue bubble, which overwhelmingly voted for Biden in 2020, it can be easy to overlook Trump’s support here. Trump earned 1 in 4 California votes in 2016 when he won the presidency, and 1 in 3 in 2020 when he lost. In San Jose, Trump earned a quarter of the votes in 2020 — 116,00 votes to Biden’s 307,000 —  while raising a third of the total money donated to either Biden or him there.

Fundraising for both Trump and Biden over the past 16 months of the election season reflected that ratio: Of the more than $35 million California residents have contributed to both presidential campaigns, one third – $11.6 million — went to Trump’s campaign.

On Thursday, some of Trump’s MAGA supporters were expected to greet him as he headed to the Pacific Heights home of venture capitalist David O. Sacks, where tickets to his fundraiser cost upwards of $300,000. At the same time, an inflatable “Trump Chicken” balloon, wearing a black-and-white-striped convict top, was expected to form a protest of its own while sailing in front of Alcatraz.

Sacks, who had backed Gov. Ron DeSantis then Vivek Ramaswamy during the GOP primary, was one of the first billionaires to support Trump after his conviction on 34 felonies. In a tweet, Sacks praised fellow California venture capitalist Shawn Maquire from Sequoia Capital for donating $300,000 to Trump on the spot.

“Trump has a lot of supporters in Silicon Valley. Many are just afraid to admit it,” Sacks wrote. “But with each act of courage, like this one, the dam begins to break.”

Indeed, Atherton billionaire and former Sequoia Capital partner Doug Leone, who renounced Trump after the Jan. 6 riot, tweeted Monday that he will be supporting Trump after all.

Certainly, San Jose has its share of tech engineers and executives who can afford $3 million homes in the neighborhoods of Willow Glen and Almaden Valley and have responded to Trump’s calls for cash. But residents of East San Jose, where the heavily Asian and Latino immigrants are noticeably shifting to the right politically, have, too. Two of those East San Jose zip codes made it to Trump’s donor list of top 5 ZIP codes in San Jose, behind Cambrian Park and Willow Glen.

Although the majority of voters from precincts in East San Jose voted for Biden in 2020, Trump’s campaign for reelection that year earned him 94% more votes from that region than in 2016, according to a 2020 analysis by The New York Times.

“If I was Trump’s campaign, I would be reaching out to those folks and saying, ‘Hey, you were with me? Are you still with me? How about you push this donate button?’” said Michelson from Menlo College. “As with religion, converts are often more enthusiastic. And if you’ve recently become a Trump supporter, you voted for him in 2020, you’re probably still pretty enthusiastic about Trump.”

California has been a cash cow for both Biden and Trump — providing the largest percentage of their fundraising dollars than any other state. Of Biden’s campaign chest, 20 percent comes from California, followed by New York that gave 10% so far, according to data from OpenSecrets. Trump’s campaign also gets most of its donations from California, but by a much smaller margin at 12%, followed closely by Texas with 11% and Florida with 10%.

Elsewhere in Northern California, Biden’s cash influx not surprisingly far exceeds Trump’s. Residents of Palo Alto, Berkeley, Portola Valley, Menlo Park, Los Altos and Mill Valley have all given more than a combined quarter million dollars to Biden, who made his own fundraising jaunt to the Bay Area in April. The Democrat tapped into the wallets of billionaires like Vinod Khosla of Portola Valley, one of several wealthy enclaves including Los Altos, Atherton and Palo Alto that filled out Biden’s list of top donor towns.

Vice President Kamala Harris, San Francisco’s former district attorney, swung through her old stomping grounds Wednesday to raise money for Biden as well. Her motorcade passed pro-Palestinian protesters along the way.

Although some estimate that Trump could raise more than $12 million during his swing through San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Newport Beach this week, California donations to Trump before his conviction were relatively small. In San Francisco, where Biden raised $2.9 million through April, Trump raised $146,000.

Other Northern California cities that rounded out Trump’s list of top California cities were Fremont at No. 14, with $70,000 and Sunnyvale at No. 17 with $53,000.

Whether Trump’s felony convictions continue to be a fundraising juggernaut — or a turn off to independent voters — remains to be seen. Messages left with Sacks and the Trump campaign were not returned Thursday.

So far, some prominent Silicon Valley Republicans appear to be sitting out, including Tesla founder Elon Musk, Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel and Oracle founder Larry Ellison. The next FEC fundraising report, where donors will be listed, isn’t due for weeks. Contributions from May will be reported on June 20, and contributions made this week will be reported officially in July.

As all Republican presidential candidates have since George H. W. Bush won the state in 1988, Trump doesn’t stand much chance of winning California come November. But the money he raises here will bolster his campaign operations in battleground states.

“California is a diverse state,” said David McCuan, Sonoma State politics science professor. “It’s the ATM again, of all colors.”

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