Democrats are not blowing out the doors in 2020 fundraising

The big money hasn’t flooded into the Democratic presidential contest just yet.

The first-quarter fundraising numbers for the 2020 presidential contenders shows that donors are waiting to see how the field shakes out before going all-in behind one candidate.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersAngst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure MORE (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) raised enormous sums in the short time frame since launching their campaigns. But their fundraising efforts, powered by small-dollar donors, fell off sharply after blockbuster opening days.


With the massive field of candidates, Democratic donors, fundraisers and strategists interviewed by The Hill said they’re either spreading their money across the field of candidates or waiting on other would-be candidates, such as former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCDC chief clarifies vaccine comments: 'There will be no nationwide mandate' Overnight Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Biden urges local governments to stave off evictions MORE or former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, to enter the race.

Others, still feeling burned by the 2016 campaign, want to wait and see how the primary plays out before pushing their chips in.

Democrats say the enthusiasm is there and the money will follow to power the eventual nominee to victory. But with most of the first-quarter numbers announced, no one has blown the doors off the cash game, leaving the race as wide open as ever.

“We’re in for a long slog,” said Kelly Dietrich, the founder and CEO of the National Democratic Training Committee. “These candidates will have to show that they can raise money consistently and maintain those levels. Everyone should prepare to spend appropriately — we could have four different winners in the first four primaries. There will be ups and downs. You have to survive to advance.”

In the 2008 Democratic primary, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMillennial momentum means trouble for the GOP Biden's Cuba problem: Obama made a bet and lost Democrats need a coherent response to attacks on critical race theory MORE each raised more than $25 million in the first quarter of 2007. 

None of the 2020 contenders that have publicly released fundraising numbers have hit the $20 million mark, although Sanders and O’Rourke entered the race later in the quarter and exceeded the daily averages posted by both Obama and Clinton in the first three months of 2007.

In 2016, Clinton raised $47.5 million in her first quarter of fundraising, averaging more than $600,000 per day. The massive haul is more than the top three 2020 contenders combined.

Sanders raised $18.2 million over 41 days, for an average of $444,000 a day, although after subtracting his first-day haul, his average has been about $307,500 ever since.

O’Rourke raised $9.4 million in 18 days, including a staggering $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after his campaign announcement, putting him at an average of about $522,000 per day. His daily average fell to less than $200,000 after his first day of fundraising.


For comparison, Obama raked in an average of about $348,500 per day in the first quarter of 2007. Clinton’s daily average in the same time frame was about $372,000.

Behind Sanders and O’Rourke, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - CDC equates Delta to chickenpox in contagiousness Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries Why in the world are White House reporters being told to mask up again? MORE (D-Calif.) raised $12 million, or about $171,000 per day; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegChasten Buttigieg: DC 'almost unaffordable' JD Vance takes aim at culture wars, childless politicians Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary MORE (D) came in at $7 million, or about $103,000 per day; Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.) raised $6 million, or $67,000 per day; Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (D-Minn.) raised $5.2 million, or about $102,000 per day; and Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Juan Williams: Biden's child tax credit is a game-changer MORE (D-N.J.) took in just more than $5 million, or an average of $85,000 per day.

Having sworn off corporate PAC money, second-tier candidates will have to scrimp to stay in a race that could produce four different winners in the first four primary and caucus states.

Candidates have until April 15 to file their first-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission, however, some candidates have opted to announce fundraising totals themselves ahead of that deadline.

Several Democratic donors interviewed by The Hill said they’re currently spreading small amounts across their preferred candidates in an effort to ensure they make the debate stage.

One donor said he was doling out two-figure contributions to a handful of candidates, including Buttigieg, to make sure “there’s a good group of candidates up on stage” in June, when the first primary debate is slated to take place.

“While there are certainly donors leaning in, some are waiting to see Darwin do some magic,” Jon Vein, a major Democratic donor explained, nodding to the theory of survival of the fittest. 

Vein said as the field begins to take shape, major donors will “jump in.” 

But the big establishment money drawn from bundlers collecting checks at swanky fundraisers remains parked behind Biden and McAuliffe, though neither is in the race at this point.

“Terry McAuliffe is a very close friend. I am waiting on him to decide,” said John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer who raised millions of dollars for Clinton’s 2016 campaign.

Another prominent donor said the first-quarter totals for candidates prove that there’s a “wait and see attitude.”

“I think a lot of people still don’t know who can beat Trump,” the donor said. “And there’s also the fact that Joe Biden is still not in the race. I think lots of people are waiting to see how he shapes the race and whether he can maintain his lead in the polls.”

That group of donors includes Joe Falk, who raised millions of dollars for the Obama-Biden campaign.

“I am a Biden loyalist,” Falk said. “I will support him.”

Democrats say there is still some resentment among donors who feel burned by the 2016 election, when Clinton raised more than half-a-billion dollars for her campaign committee alone and still lost to President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' MORE.

The Democratic presidential contenders will be competing for cash with House and Senate candidates. An ocean of liberal money helped Democrats reclaim the House in 2018, and there are hopes they can do the same in the Senate in 2020.

“A lot of donors still have PTSD from 2016,” said one Democratic source. “They were planning their lives out for the next eight years, thinking about ambassadorships and appointments. The ripple effects are still with us. Giving money to down-ballot candidates feels like a good hedge.”

Still, Democrats expect the money spigot to open soon enough as the primary heats up. And they say there will be no shortage of money behind whichever candidate gets the nod to take on Trump.

“The money will be there for whoever the nominee is, that’s not the problem,” the Democrat said. “But right now, the money is telling me that we’re headed for the worst fight of our lives, with no established front-runner and the big money waiting on Biden and McAuliffe. The Republican side is already raising a ton of money and they know exactly what they want to do with it.”

Amie Parnes contributed.