WASHINGTON – Sen. Elizabeth Warren placed a big bet a few months ago: In a sprawling field of two dozen Democratic presidential hopefuls, and without a tested grass-roots fundraising machine, she pledged not to court wealthy donors who could boost her candidacy with big checks.
That bet has paid off, at least for now, as Warren’s campaign announced Monday she had raised $19.1 million in the second quarter of 2019 – a significant sum that secures her spot as a competitive candidate in the top tier of the primary field.
The Massachusetts Democrat’s haul reflects a strong fundraising performance by the Democratic hopefuls in the past three months. The five most prominent candidates raised a total of $95.4 million, putting the Democratic field on a pace to exceed the record-breaking $105 million brought in by President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee in the second quarter.
The cash raised by those five Democrats – Warren; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana; former vice president Joe Biden; Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.; and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., – eclipsed the $75 million raised by eight Democratic primary candidates in the second quarter of 2007, suggesting an enthusiasm by the party’s rank-and-file.
“Across the board, I think the numbers are looking great for Democrats,” said Ami Copeland, who was deputy national finance director for Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. “That is an amazing sign for the eventual nominee.”
Still, these candidates are part of a field that has a long way to go before narrowing. The top raisers are among those leading in national polls, but their fundraising is still largely dependent on the viral moments that help them break out of the pack.
And as they enter a fundraising lull in the summer months, the candidates will need to be strategic about where they spend their resources and how to maintain momentum.
“I think the top five all have reasons to be happy, but I would also say that there are real concerns for all five,” said Rufus Gifford, finance director for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. “For example, can you effectively chart a path to victory if you are being outraised more than 2-to-1 by the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend? We’ll need to hear the answer to that.”
That is a reference to Buttigieg, whose haul of $24.8 million (with $832,000 of it earmarked for the general election) was the biggest of the second quarter.
The Federal Election Commission filings detailing fundraising figures for the second quarter will be released July 15, but candidates with impressive figures have been releasing their numbers earlier.
Coming in just behind Buttigieg was Biden, with an announced total of $21.5 million, followed by Warren’s $19.1 million, Sanders’s approximately $18 million and Harris’s nearly $12 million.
Two other candidates have also announced their figures: Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, reporting more than $2 million since joining the Democratic race in mid-May, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., who said he raised $2.8 million and transferred $700,000 from his Senate committee.
Still, many Democratic donors are still sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the sprawling field to shrink, and that presents challenges for the candidates.
Despite being the leading fundraiser of the quarter and capturing the attention of donors, for example, Buttigieg has not yet seen a significant bump in polling.
A Washington Post-ABC News Poll showed Buttigieg is tied with former housing secretary Julián Castro at 4%.
“Everybody across the board believes he’s the future of the party in a huge way, and they’re super excited about him,” Gifford said of Buttigieg. “I think it’s up to him whether he can translate that curiosity into convincing folks that he’s the right candidate at this time to beat Trump; that’s still a big question.”
Some of Buttigieg’s supporters have said they want to ensure his continued presence in the race, as the first married gay man to be a factor in a presidential campaign, but that doesn’t mean they will ultimately support him.
The candidates face pressure to prove they can maintain strong fundraising in the notoriously challenging months of July and August, and that pressure raises the stakes for their performance at the second Democratic primary debate at the end of July.
The fundraising figures announced so far also show how dependent the candidates’ early money has been on viral moments. As much as one-fourth of Harris’s fundraising haul from the second quarter came in the final four days of the quarter, following her strong debate performance on June 27.
Harris said her campaign took in more than $2 million online in the 24 hours after the debate, when she confronted Biden for his opposition to federally mandated busing in the 1970s.
Nearly 30% of Biden’s total haul since entering the race on April 25 was raised in the first 24 hours following his launch.
His campaign launched an announcement video on Twitter and spent heavily on Facebook ads designed to raise money on the first day, an effort to show grass-roots enthusiasm out of the gate, ad spending data shows. That day, Biden also held a fundraiser that helped boost his first-day haul to $6.3 million.
“All of these candidates are going to ebb and flow over the next three months, and how they’re set up to weather those stormy seas, we’ll see,” Copeland said.
Warren has made her refusal to host high-dollar fundraising events a major talking point for her campaign.
“I’m not holding any fundraisers where you can only get in by writing a big check – because a person’s wealth shouldn’t determine the amount of time they can spend with me, or with any presidential candidate,” she said in a recent fundraising email.
But there are exceptions to Warren’s rule. She plans to headline a high-dollar fundraising event in San Francisco on Aug. 22 to raise money on behalf of the eventual Democratic nominee, according to a copy of the invite obtained by The Washington Post.
“The first confirmed headliner for the gala is 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren!” says the invitation for the event, which is sponsored by the Democratic National Committee.
The event includes a limited number of $100 tickets in a “young professional/advocate” category. From there, prices go up to $50,000, which buys a table for 10, entree to a VIP reception and a photo op.
Warren’s campaign pointed to a blog post on Medium that the senator wrote when she announced that she wouldn’t hold fundraisers, which explained that she intended to adhere to the rule only during the primary and wanted to keep raising funds for party events.
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The Washington Post’s Annie Linskey contributed to this report.