5 key questions for Democrats ahead of fundraising deadline

They’ve spent months crisscrossing the country, building out elaborate campaign operations and pleading for the support of small donors. Now, Democratic presidential hopefuls are barreling toward a crucial fundraising deadline anxious to make a splash.

Sunday marks the close of books for the second quarter of 2019, and campaigns are scrambling to rake in last-minute donations. Candidates have until July 15 to file reports to the Federal Election Commission.

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Here are five questions ahead of Sunday’s deadline.

Who gets a bump from the debates?

For some of the candidates, this week’s primary debates offered the best opportunity yet to pitch themselves to voters — and donors — on the national stage. For others, it was a chance to extend their momentum and show supporters that they can hold their own under pressure.

Whether they entered the debate as lesser-known candidates or as top-tier contenders, they’re all hoping that their presence onstage jolts their fundraising before Sunday.

So far, at least three candidates have suggested that they were able to parlay debate success into a fundraising bump: Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerGOP senator blasts Dem bills on 'opportunity zones' Booker on Erdoğan: We should not be 'rolling out the red carpet for a ruthless authoritarian' The Hill's Morning Report - Diplomats kick off public evidence about Trump, Ukraine MORE (D-N.J.), Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (D-Calif.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Booker’s campaign manager said that the senator saw his second-best fundraising day since launching his candidacy after appearing on the debate stage on Wednesday.

Harris’s campaign said it raised more money after her onstage confrontation with former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE on Thursday than any other day of her campaign, save for her launch day.

And Castro’s campaign said that his standout debate performance on Wednesday night prompted a surge in donations equaling nearly three times the amount raised on the candidate’s previous best fundraising day.

But if standout debate performances have the potential to jolt fundraising, lackluster showings could have the potential to hinder it, especially if primary voters decide that they’ve heard enough from certain candidates.

Will Warren’s momentum pay off in the money race?

The story of Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE’s presidential bid is one of a comeback. After a shaky start to her campaign in January and a below-expectations fundraising haul in the first quarter of 2019, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts has crept up in the polls, largely thanks to her breakneck pace of campaigning, her frequent policy rollouts and her “I have a plan” mantra.

Warren will need that growing popularity to translate into campaign cash. While most Democratic presidential hopefuls have sworn off of campaign cash from political action committees, she has gone even further, eschewing high-dollar fundraisers and refusing to actively court big donors.

At the same time, Warren has built up one of the biggest campaign operations of any candidate, rapidly hiring experienced staffers in early primary and caucus states. In the first three months of 2019 alone, she spent nearly $1.9 million of the $6 million she raised to hire and retain more than 160 people.

Since then, that number has swelled upward of 200 and she’ll need to show that she’s raising the money to keep her operation going. Still, her campaign finances have been bolstered in part by a $10.4 million transfer from her Senate campaign committee, and her growing political support bodes well for her second-quarter haul.

Will Biden meet expectations?

Biden entered the Democratic primary contest as the presumed front-runner and the candidate most experienced in the world of presidential politics. And while his reputation has never been that of an eager fundraiser, he raised eyebrows in April when his campaign announced that it had raised $6.3 million in the 24 hours after he launched his presidential bid.

That has set high expectations for the former vice president as he nears the first financial reporting deadline since announcing his campaign.

So far, all signs point to a massive second-quarter haul for Biden. He’s devoted a substantial portion of his time to attending high-dollar fundraisers in traditional donor hubs such as New York, Los Angeles and Washington.

He hinted earlier this month that he had raised nearly $20 million up to that point, and some prominent donors expect him to report as much as $25 million this quarter.

And as he nears the Sunday deadline, he doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Biden attended a fundraiser in San Francisco on Friday night.

Will Buttigieg keep up his fundraising pace?

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul Buttigieg2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (D) outperformed expectations in the first quarter of the year when it was revealed that he raised $7.1 million in his first months on the campaign trail, a fundraising haul bolstered by his rising popularity among white liberals and his barrage of media appearances.

Buttigieg reportedly raked in $7 million in April alone, an amount roughly equal to his entire first-quarter total and an exemplification of his meteoric rise from relative unknown to political superstar.

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Since April, the South Bend mayor has continued to trend upward in the polls and has held numerous fundraisers, including “grass-roots fundraisers” that set low costs for admission.

But he faces challenges, as well. Most of his support so far has come from white voters, and he has struggled to make gains among African Americans, who make up an influential bloc of the Democratic electorate.

He’s also facing controversy back home stemming from the shooting death of a black man by a white police officer, a crisis he was asked to address on the debate stage on Thursday.

Buttigieg could very well end up as one of the top fundraisers of the second quarter, but whether he kept pace with his massive April showing remains to be seen.

Is anyone at risk of running dry?

It may seem a bit early to ask this question, but with so many candidates in the Democratic primary, it’s only a matter of time before some candidates will have to take stock of their finances.

One reason this primary may be particularly taxing for lesser-known candidates — those without established national profiles or deep fundraising networks — is because of the Democratic National Committee’s emphasis on grass-roots fundraising as part of its requirements to qualify for the debates.

To qualify for the first two debates, for instance, candidates had to either score 1 percent in three polls or amass support from at least 65,000 unique donors. For later debates in the fall, they’ll have to collect contributions from 130,000 donors.

Some candidates and advisers have criticized that requirement, arguing that it prioritizes spending on digital fundraising and building online donor lists over on-the-ground organizing in early primary and caucus states.

What’s more, as the first voting contests near, campaigns that haven’t bulked up their infrastructure in early states will have to begin doing so — a task that will require a steady stream of contributions.

The second-quarter fundraising totals could offer a clearer picture of which campaigns are preparing for the long slog through the primaries and which ones may have to reevaluate.