Democratic candidates' polling and fundraising numbers don't quite match up

Democratic candidates' polling and fundraising numbers don't quite match up
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The pace of the Democratic presidential race to Iowa is getting faster every day. There are only four months left until Democrats there caucus to begin the selection of delegates to the Democratic National Convention on Feb. 3, 2020.

Political insiders have often noted that the process of choosing a nominee is a marathon. This time, Democrats will choose approximately 40 percent of the convention delegates by March 3 next year, Super Tuesday, which is only five months away.

This campaign will be a sprint until then, followed by a marathon to the Democratic National Convention on July 13 and another sprint against President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate US sending 20,000 troops to Europe for largest exercises since Cold War Barr criticizes FBI, says it's possible agents acted in 'bad faith' in Trump probe MORE to finish line on Nov. 3.

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There are two things that we can easily predict about the stretch run to Iowa. There will be lots of twists and turns since so few Democrats have made a firm decision on their choice. There will also be more collisions between the frontrunners as they pick up speed and pick each other off. The road race will turn into road rage.

The markers on this road are coming fast and furious as we get closer to the first delegate selection contest in the Hawkeye state. The best way to mark the progress in this long journey are the nationally televised debates and the quarterly financial reports submitted to the Federal Election Commission by the presidential hopefuls at the end of each quarter during the year.

We learned a lot from the financial reports for the third quarter of 2019 filed by the candidates last week and we will learn even more from the fourth round of debates scheduled for next week.

The money raised by the Democratic candidates was not completely in sync with their standings in the polls. Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Top Zelensky aide refutes Sondland testimony The great AI debate: What candidates are (finally) saying about artificial intelligence MORE and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Buttigieg surrogate on candidate's past consulting work: 'I don't think it matters' Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE (D-Mass.) are the frontrunners in the polls, but their fundraising fortunes diverged sharply. Warren raised $23.9 million dollars while Biden reported only $15.1 million.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders urges impeachment trial 'quickly' in the Senate The media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Steyer rolls out 5B plan to invest in historically black colleges MORE (I-Vt.) and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Tulsi Gabbard reacts to Afghanistan report, calls out Pete Buttigieg's McKinsey work Buttigieg surrogate on candidate's past consulting work: 'I don't think it matters' MORE lag in the polls but they were very successful on the fundraising front. At $25.1 million, Sanders raised more money than any of the Democrats while Buttigieg raised $19.1 million even though he doesn’t break double digits in the polls. After two straight strong fundraising quartets, Mayor Pete has the resources to raise his visibility to the level of Warren, Sanders and Biden on a national scale.

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The other candidates like Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisThe media have fallen out of love with Bernie, but have voters? Krystal Ball: Media turns on Buttigieg, will this end him? Senate Democrats demand Trump fire Stephen Miller MORE (D-Calif.), with $11.6 million, were behind the rest of the field in polls and in money. These candidates need money desperately to raise their name recognition in the hope that increased visibility will bring more votes.

Harris may have to bet the farm on strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire to raise more money. But Sanders, Warren, Biden and Buttigieg have the financial flexibility to spend money nationally, which is important with the deluge of states including California and Texas that have early state primaries.

Small donations are the gifts that keep on giving. The success that Sanders and Warren have in fundraising without holding one formal fundraiser indicates the advantage of committed followers who repeatedly refresh campaign coffers with a stream of small donations. The two progressive candidates raised almost $50 million between them in the third quarter which is as much as the next four candidates combined.

Biden’s reliance on big donors means that big initial maximum contributions got him off to a big start, but they didn’t provide the steady stream necessary to compete with the Sanders and Warren money bombs. Sanders’ endless spigot of small contributions from fervent supporters keeps him flush even while he lags in the polls.

Fundraising also drives the debates. Twelve of the candidates met the Democratic National Committee’s threshold polling and small-donor fundraising requirements for participation in the fourth round of debates on Oct. 15.

The big problem in the debate next week will be about the limited opportunity the candidates will have to discuss the problems that Americans worry about like the economic slowdown, heath care, gun violence and climate change. With 12 contestants and a good part of the debate devoted to impeachment, the Democratic contenders and the moderators will need to be on top of their games to focus on the issues that voters really care about. 

Then there will be another Democratic debate in November and then the fourth quarter FEC filing at the end of December will be staring the candidates in the face. The DNC has tougher fundraising requirements for participation in the fifth round of debates. At this point only five of the hopefuls, Warren, Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris have qualified. The other candidates will have to pull out all the stops to qualify so they can continue their campaigns.

Then the Democratic candidates will barely have a chance to catch their breaths with only a month to go until the Iowa Caucuses. After that, there are only be eight days to campaign in New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary. After the first two contests, many of the hopefuls will finally have the chance for serious rest and relaxation after they drop by the wayside. But the pace will only quicken for the survivors as they continue the sprint for another month until Super Tuesday on March 3 when California, Texas and 12 other jurisdictions select delegates.

The eventual Democratic nominee won’t have much time after the convention. He or she will have only 109 days after the convention ends to relax and regroup before Election Day on Nov. 3. There won’t be any rest for the weary Democrat who secures his or her party’s nomination.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Deadline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.