Campaign

Fundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race

The latest release of federal fundraising reports on Monday underscored the widening gap between the Democratic presidential primary contest's top tier and those candidates struggling to gain traction in a crowded field. 

Five candidates - former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg - have largely pulled away from the rest of the pack, with each raising eight-digit sums in the second quarter of 2019.

Together, those five candidates have raised almost $100 million in the past three months, their federal filings show.

By comparison, nearly 20 others seeking the Democratic Party's nomination have raised millions less than the top five contenders. That includes the likes of former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas) and three current or former governors: Steve Bullock of Montana, Jay Inslee of Washington and John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado.

Buttigieg, who entered the presidential race in January as a relative unknown on the national stage, saw perhaps the most impressive fundraising surge over the past three months, bringing in roughly $24.9 million. 

Biden, however, was not far behind. He raised $21.5 million for his presidential bid since launching his campaign in April. That relatively late start left him with less time than most of his competitors to raise money.

Warren and Sanders, who are competing for the progressive mantle in the primary, raked in large sums of their own - $19.1 million and $18 million, respectively. Harris rounds out the top five with a second-quarter haul of just under $12 million. 

Taken together, the large hauls illustrate how a handful of contenders have largely succeeded in breaking away from the rest of the field. They are now intent on assembling the type of financial juggernauts necessary to power their campaigns through a long and arduous primary season.

Warren has brought more than 300 people onto her staff, while Harris has begun expanding her political operations in the four early primary and caucus states. 

Meanwhile, Buttigieg appears to be conserving his funds, spending only $8.8 million in the second quarter of the year - just over a third of what he raised in the same time frame.

While Democrats are focused on raising money for the primary, the eventual nominee will have to contend with President Trump. His campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) announced on Monday that they had raised a combined $108 million in the second quarter, a staggering number that gives Trump an unmatched advantage in the money race.

Many of the candidates announced second-quarter fundraising numbers ahead of the July 15 deadline for filing their reports, which cover the period from April 1 to June 30. 

O'Rourke's campaign announced his second-quarter total just hours before the filing deadline, disclosing in an email to reporters that the former congressman had raised $3.6 million over the past three months. 

That's significantly less than the $9.3 million he raised in the roughly two-week period after his campaign launch in March. In fact, it's notably less than the $6.1 million he raised in the 24 hours after he announced his candidacy.

The fundraising drop-off is indicative of a larger downward trend in O'Rourke's political prospects. He entered the race with the promise of being a rising political star with appeal across Democratic factions and a unique fundraising ability, but has struggled to gain the kind of traction that candidates like Buttigieg have achieved.

There was a similar trend in fundraising among many of the senators running in the race. 

While three of the five top-raising candidates were senators, their colleagues in the chamber did not fare as well in the cash race.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) brought $4.5 million in the second quarter, which is slightly lower than his first-quarter fundraising haul of $5 million. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) also experienced a fundraising drop from the first quarter. Her campaign announced on Monday that she had raked in close to $4 million in the second quarter. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) raised just $2.3 million during the second quarter, bringing her total cash on hand to $8.2 million. Gillibrand has yet to reach the 130,000-donor threshold she'll need to qualify for the third Democratic debate in the fall. 

The New York senator trailed Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), who brought in $2.8 million during the second quarter. Bennet announced his candidacy in May. 

Among current and former governors, Hickenlooper fared the worst in fundraising, bringing in $1.1 million in the second quarter. That's roughly $1 million less than he raised in the first month of his White House campaign. 

Bullock and Inslee, meanwhile, raised roughly $2 million and $3 million, respectively.

The second-quarter hauls come just days before the candidates find out if they qualify for CNN's Democratic debates this month in Detroit.

In order to qualify for the forum, candidates must either average more than 1 percent support in three qualified polls or have 65,000 unique donors to their respective campaigns.

For the fundraising qualification, the candidates must have at least 200 different donors per state in a minimum of 20 states. 

A handful of candidates are banking on standout performances in the second round of primary debates later this month to boost their standing in the contest. 

In fact, at least one lesser-known candidate saw a spike in fundraising after the first round of debates late last month. Nearly 40 percent of former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro's $2.8 million haul in the second quarter came in the days after his well-received showing in that debate.

It will be ever more difficult for candidates to meet the qualifications for the third round of debates in September. 

In order to qualify, candidates much reach 2 percent support in four national or early state polls, in addition to the fundraising requirement of 130,000 unique donors and 400 unique donors across a minimum of 20 states. 

Despite the growing financial gap in the Democratic primary contest, the field doesn't appear to be narrowing just yet. A day after Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) became the first candidate to exit the nominating contest, another hopeful, billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, jumped into the race.

Swalwell's second-quarter fundraising haul offers some insight into his decision to drop out. He raised just over $878,000 in his 2 1/2-month presidential run, putting him in the lowest tier of fundraisers. 

Steyer, who only announced his campaign last week, did not have to file a second-quarter fundraising report, but is expected to inject at least $100 million of his personal fortune into his White House bid.

Updated at 7:37 a.m. 

Outbrain