Start with the stipulations: Money is not destiny, and cash can be a piss-poor proxy for engagement. But the first quarter of 2019 has concluded, and fundraising totals from the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are trickling in — giving us hard data, and a few tea leaves, to ponder.
The biggest surprise of the quarter is Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, whose implausible rise to the top tier of 2020 candidates is now buoyed by millions in small-dollar donations. Not yet even a declared candidate, Buttigieg’s exploratory committee raised more than $7 million in the first quarter. “This is way ahead of what our original initial goals were,” Buttigieg said in a video, announcing the haul from a new headquarters. According to Mayor Pete, the cash flowed in from nearly 160,000 donors, with two-thirds of the money coming from contributions of less than $200.
Besting Buttigieg was Kamala Harris, the California senator who pulled down more than any other first-time presidential candidate in the field. Her total? More than $12 million. The Harris campaign touted 218,000 donations (from 138,000 donors) and said that 98 percent of contributions were less than $100, with an average online donation of $28.
The largest haul of the quarter, no surprise, went to Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who entered the race with a small-dollar political machine four years in the making. With the backing of more than 500,000 donors, and contributions averaging about $20 a pop, Sanders pulled down more than $18 million in the first months of his 2020 bid. Nearly 90 percent of the money was raised from contributions of less than $200, his campaign said.
Joining the top tier of fundraisers is former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who announced a haul of $9.4 million in the first quarter, largely on the strength of his kickoff campaign that raised more than $6 million in the opening 24 hours. The Beto campaign has not revealed the number of donors but disclosed 218,000 donations.
Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator, has reportedly transferred $10 million to her presidential campaign from her Senate war chest, giving her the resources to remain competitive with the top fundraisers. Prioritizing small-dollar, grassroots contributions, Warren has vowed not to hold special meet-and-greets for big donors — a decision that prompted the resignation of her finance chief. She nonetheless raised $6 million from 135,000 donors.
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar announced that her campaign raised $5.2 million in the first seven weeks. While not revealing a total number of donors, the campaign indicated that “85 percent of all donors gave less than $100.”
Cory Booker, the New Jersey Senator, announced his campaign raised more than $5 million in February and March. Booker did not reveal anything about the makeup of his donor base, raising questions about the breadth of his grassroots support. But with these millions, and more in reserve in his Senate campaign account, Booker is well-resourced to build out a competitive campaign.
Although he’s well behind these leaders, entrepreneur Andrew Yang is proving to be another, unlikely grassroots sensation. The quixotic candidate who wants to create a $1,000-a-month universal basic income, announced a haul of $1.7 million in the first quarter from 80,000 donors, who gave an average of about $18 apiece.
The money news for other 2020 candidates is likely less than rosy. Washington Governor Jay Inslee and former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper each touted nearly $1 million raised after their campaign kickoffs, but have said little about fundraising since.
The crickets you hear from the rest of the field are not encouraging.
This post will be updated as more candidates tout their Q1 totals.