Insurgents win in 2020 fundraising race

Fourth-quarter fundraising numbers show enormous sums of money flowing to the insurgents, outsiders and fresh faces in politics, revealing an enduring hunger for disruption in Washington ahead of the 2020 election.

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersABC names new deputy political director, weekend White House correspondent Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor GOP pulling out all the stops to delay COVID-19 package MORE (I-Vt.), both of whom have upended the traditional order in their political parties, appear to be growing stronger heading into 2020. Both candidates are setting new fundraising records with every passing quarter.

And two new faces on the national scene — South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Increased security on Capitol Hill amid QAnon's March 4 date Biden to meet with bipartisan lawmakers on infrastructure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill MORE and tech entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangDozens of famous men support ,400 monthly payments for mothers for 'unpaid labor at home' Yang intervenes after man threatened with metal pole on Staten Island Ferry NYC's largest union endorses Maya Wiley in mayoral race MORE — have been the biggest surprises of the Democratic primary, outlasting better known Washington insiders and raising tens of millions of dollars in the run-up to next month’s Iowa caucuses.


“What people are saying with their dollars, and not just Democrats but on the Republican side too, is that they want someone who will disrupt the system, not just be a part of it,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist in South Carolina.

“It’s easier for candidates to be against something, than to be for something, it’s quite easy to argue that Washington is a bad animal. There’s a real thirst to restore power back to the people from a grassroots perspective, and that’s what you’re seeing with these heavy hauls from the outsiders.”

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants MORE had his best fundraising quarter so far by taking in $22.7 million in the fourth quarter, but that still left him well behind Sanders, who raised $34.5 million.

Biden also trailed Buttigieg, who raised $24.7 million. And Biden only raised $6.2 million more than Yang, who was a complete unknown one year ago but is raising more money and polling ahead of some more established candidates.

The fourth quarter result for Biden is still a strong number for the former vice president, but the fact that he was outraised by Sanders and Buttigieg underscores the intensity of support for insurgent candidates or for someone who comes from outside of Washington.

“You’re seeing the same style of fundraising on both sides because it’s what works in this environment — raising money by telling voters that Washington is broken and needs to be fixed from the outside,” said one Democratic fundraiser.


No one is hotter on the fundraising trail than Sanders, who has been in the House or Senate for decades but has built his political identify on a campaign to overhaul the way the nation does business.

Sanders raised a whopping $96 million in 2019, with an average donation of only $18.53.

The campaign reached the 5 million individual donors mark before the end of the year, about two and a half months earlier than he did in 2016.

That money should continue to roll in — 99.9 percent of Sanders donors have not maxed out and so will be able to give again, including most of the 300,000 new donors the campaign says gave for the first time in the fourth quarter.

“He is proving every day that working class Americans are ready and willing to fully fund a campaign that stands up for them and takes on the biggest corporations and the wealthy,” said campaign manager Faiz Shakir.

Buttigieg, 37, does not cut a profile for a typical outsider or insurgent, but his fundraising success has been stunning for someone who has not held a political position higher than mayor of a town of a little more than 100,000 people.

Buttigieg’s campaign is making the case that he has outraised sitting senators and current and former governors — and leads in many polls of Iowa — because voters are eager for leadership from outside of Washington, and from a younger generation.

“These [fundraising] figures are even more astounding considering that Pete started this race less than a year ago as an unknown candidate, with just a few staffers and zero dollars in the bank,” said national press secretary Chris Meagher. “But what we did have was a shared vision of bringing a new kind of politics to Washington and changing the trajectory of our country.”

If Buttigieg is the biggest surprise of the Democratic primary, Yang, who raised $16.5 million in the fourth quarter, is at least giving him some competition.

Yang is still a long shot for the nomination and has struggled to gain traction in the polls, but should have the resources to stay in the race for the long haul.

A clash with the Democratic National Committee appears to have jolted Yang’s supporters into opening up their checkbooks. The tech entrepreneur brought in about $4 million in the final two days of the year after the DNC rejected his request to commission additional polls that could be used to qualify for the January debate.

Yang has easily surpassed the fundraising threshold for the January debate, but a dearth of holiday polling has him at risk of missing the polling requirement. Yang has been all over cable news and Twitter in recent days making the case that Washington insiders are stifling his supporters.


“Put yourself in the shoes of our 400,000 donors who have fueled this campaign and then there aren’t any polls to see if our support is growing over the past 45 days,” Yang said on Tuesday. “That’s not fair to the voters and the DNC should be trying to make the voice of the voter heard, not pushing it aside.” 

Trump, the outsider candidate in 2016, is also raking in huge sums. He raised $46 million in the fourth quarter amid a divisive impeachment fight, a bump of $5 million over the third quarter haul.

All told, Trump raised $143 million in 2019 and ended the year with about $103 million in the bank after beginning with only about $19 million in cash on hand.

The Trump campaign has about $20 million more in cash on hand than former President Obama had at this point in 2012.

Democrats are optimistic they’ll even the playing field as soon as they decide on a nominee, whether that person is an insider or an outsider. Together, Sanders, Buttigieg, Biden and Yang outraised Trump by more than $50 million this quarter.

“The $100 million [Trump has in the bank] is impressive but our numbers show Democrats are fired up and giving in record numbers,” said Kelly Dietrich, a veteran Democratic fundraiser and the CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee. “It’s an advantage [for Trump] now but it’s nowhere near the advantage he’ll need. It will take a little time for us to catch up but of the problems we face, fundraising capacity is not near the top of the list.”