Trump’s $125 million haul highlights fundraising advantage over 2020 Dems
By Stephen Loiaconi Wednesday
October 2nd 2019
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders may be slipping in national polls, but fundraising data for the third quarter of 2019 proves he is still an undeniable force in the 2020 Democratic primary race. Still, experts say President Donald Trump’s record-breaking haul gives him an edge over all the Democratic contenders that could prove insurmountable.
Sanders brought in more than $25 million in the third quarter, $7 million more than he received in the previous three months and more than any other Democrat who has announced their fundraising totals so far. His campaign planned a $1.3 million ad buy in Iowa later this week with a video focused on his record fighting for the middle class.
“Media elites and professional pundits have tried repeatedly to dismiss this campaign, and yet working-class Americans keep saying loudly and clearly that they want a political revolution,” Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said in a statement on the fundraising numbers.
However, Sanders announced Wednesday he is temporarily suspending campaign events after undergoing heart surgery. That reportedly includes canceling the planned ad buy.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg raised $19 million in the last three months, less than in the second quarter but enough to remain a top tier candidate heading into the fall. California Sen. Kamala Harris took in $11.6 million in donations, about even with the previous quarter, despite slipping in polls as memories of her strong June debate performance faded.
Businessman Andrew Yang, whose signature campaign proposal is giving Americans $1,000 a month, received an impressive amount from supporters, coming in slightly behind Harris with $10 million. That puts him well above two sitting senators, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado, who also announced totals Tuesday.
“Other campaigns are plateauing or contracting while we are growing quickly. The excitement rises every day. Our rate of growth makes all things possible – including our winning the general election next year,” Yang tweeted after his numbers were released.
As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, the two leading candidates in most polls, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, had not yet released their fundraising figures. With Warren riding high on momentum and media buzz, it will be important to see how her numbers for the quarter stack up against Sanders since they are competing for the same progressive voters.
“If she doesn’t come close to that, how does she make the argument that she’s the better Bernie?” asked Michael Cohen, chief strategy officer for Republican polling and data firm WPA Intelligence.
While top Democratic candidates are raking in significant amounts of money, even their cumulative total is dwarfed by the amount raised by President Trump and the Republican National Committee. Trump and the RNC brought in $125 million during the quarter, entering October with $156 million in cash on hand.
“President Trump has built a juggernaut of a campaign, raising record amounts of money at a record pace,” Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.
With Trump trailing the top Democratic candidates head-to-head in most polls and facing a precarious impeachment inquiry in Washington, experts say stockpiling cash now is essential for his campaign. According to Gary Nordlinger, a political media consultant and professional in residence at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, to win in November 2020, Trump is going to need the money to make the Democratic nominee even less popular than he is next year.
Fundraising matters for Democrats too because, unlike Trump whose GOP primary challengers have barely registered with voters and donors, they need to fight to survive the early primaries if they want to have a chance of getting their party’s nomination.
“These candidates need to have cash now, whereas Trump has the luxury of just building up enormous reserves and focusing it all on one person,” Nordlinger said.
According to Cohen, fundraising data also provides a useful metric for determining which candidates are building up support, which ones are failing, and who is stagnating. The $10 million total for Yang is particularly impressive, he noted, because it more than tripled the candidate’s second quarter haul and it makes his candidacy more than just a sideshow.
“Clearly, the ‘Yang Gang’ is getting larger and they’re reaching deeper into their pockets, and that’s bad for the rest of the field because now they have to deal with him,” Cohen said. “He’s not going anywhere.”
Hamza Khan, a Democratic strategist and founder of the Pluralism Project, cautioned against reading too much into the fundraising numbers four months before the first votes are cast. As long as a candidate raises enough to keep their campaign operation going, he sees little incentive to drop out of the race now.
“I think we are still very early in this cycle,” he said. “We’re not even in the election year yet. We don’t have enough eyes paying attention to really know where the polls are going to lead us in the end.”
It is not just Democratic candidates whose fundraising numbers are being far outpaced by Republicans. The Democratic National Committee limped into September deep in debt with far less cash on hand than the RNC. As of the end of August, the RNC had $54 million on hand, while the DNC reported $8.2 million on hand and $7.2 million in debt.
“Boycotts from Hollywood liberals, Democrats’ shameful attacks on private citizens, along with unprecedented support for our President, boosted the RNC to break fundraising records in Q3,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said on Twitter Tuesday.
Trump’s fundraising to date substantially exceeds the total President Barack Obama was able to raise by this point in the 2012 election cycle. Some say that should be concerning to Democrats because Obama was able to use his money to define the terms of the 2012 race before Republicans even had a nominee and Mitt Romney never managed to overcome that head start.
“In the general election, it will be an enormous advantage,” Nordlinger said. “He has to spend next to no money to get the Republican nomination.”
Trump may not have to spend money now, but taking in $125 million in a quarter means he can spend it freely if he wants. While Democratic candidates argue with each other and attempt to introduce themselves to voters, Trump has already spent nearly $20 million promoting his reelection bid on Facebook, including $1.5 million in the last week pushing back against the impeachment effort and promoting upcoming rallies.
Trump’s campaign released its second ad responding to the impeachment inquiry Wednesday, accusing Democrats of engaging in a “coup” against him. The 30-second clip and another targeting Biden over his son’s business dealings in Ukraine will be part of an $8 million ad buy, according to the campaign.
Some Democrats have warned that the eventual nominee could face a steep uphill battle next year if Trump’s early attacks go unanswered on the airwaves. The DNC has strived to appear neutral in the primaries, but staying silent as Trump targets leading candidates could be a mistake.
“What happens if Trump spends $250m plus against Biden and Warren over next six months as they fight it out for the nomination?” asked Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg on Twitter. “Does the DNC just sit there? My guess is DNC could raise $50m-100m from grassroots Dems easily if they announced an anti-Trump media effort.”
In a race where the president has already spent the last two-and-a-half years defining himself daily in a way that nearly 60% of Americans disapprove of, Khan is not worried about Democrats’ fundraising deficit. He predicted most of the people currently donating to the other 19 Democratic candidates will also help fund the nominee in the general election.
“They will likely fall in line and support the Democratic nominee for the sake of defending the union,” he said.
Since the impeachment investigation was announced last week, Republicans and Democrats have sought to cash in on the energy the dramatic move created in their base. Trump’s campaign claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement spurred $13 million in donations in three days, while several Democratic candidates used the impeachment probe to appeal to supporters for more money.
“We’ve raised over $15 million since this started,” McDaniel told Fox News Tuesday. “We’ve seen massive enthusiasm. Our volunteers are energized, they recognize what the Democrat Party is doing, and I think in the end it’s going to help us win the election.”
A protracted impeachment fight may have ancillary benefits for candidates in both parties, but experts expect Trump will get a bigger boost. It gives Republican voters a reason to donate to him at a time when most of the attention is focused on the Democrats, and unlike the other side, GOP donors are not splitting their money up between 20 candidates.
“It probably helps Trump more because he doesn’t have a real opponent at this point,” Cohen said. “The party is rallied around the president anyway, so this is just helping him raise more money… It’s pretty clear what the strategy is: ‘We’re under attack, help us.’”
Sanders and Warren have often boasted about eschewing big-dollar fundraisers and relying mainly on grassroots support. If one of them is nominated, Trump’s burgeoning war chest may create pressure for them to change tactics and appeal to big donors, but experts doubt that will be necessary.
“They’ll continue to be able to raise money from these small donors… You can just constantly refuel,” Nordlinger said.
In the 2008 primaries, then-candidate Hillary Clinton fueled her primary campaign with big donations, but when Barack Obama emerged as a serious contender late in the race, many of her supporters had already given the most they legally could. However, so far this year, Sanders has pulled in donations from more than a million people, and most of them have not maxed out their contributions.
“The benefit of small donors is, if you can rake in $25 million from them, these folks have by no means exhausted their ability to give,” Khan said.
The eventual Democratic nominee may never be able to catch up with Trump and the GOP’s fundraising prowess, but as important as money is in presidential politics, it is not everything. Cohen observed Hillary Clinton raised and spent more than Trump in 2016 and still lost.
“You can win an election if you’re outspent,” he said, “but you need to have enough money to compete.”
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