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Is Elizabeth Warren Building a Grassroots Juggernaut?

As Trump builds a huge re-election war chest, and Pete Buttigieg surges to the lead in Democratic fundraising, Warren’s small-dollar donor network has quietly become a powerhouse

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., poses for a photograph during an American Federation of Teachers town hall event, at the Plumbers Local 690 Union Hall in PhiladelphiaElection 2020 Warren, Philadelphia, USA - 13 May 2019

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., poses for a photograph during an American Federation of Teachers town hall event, at the Plumbers Local 690 Union Hall in Philadelphia Election 2020 Warren, Philadelphia, USA - 13 May 2019

Matt Rourke/AP/Shutterstock

The official disclosure deadline is not until July 15th, but 2020 candidates are already touting the millions they raised in the second quarter of 2019.

The top rainmaker of the quarter, by far, is President Donald Trump. His campaign, in conjunction with the Republican National Committee, says it raised $105 million from April through June, in line with the target of raising $1 billion in re-election funds. Trump officials have bragged the bounty gives the campaign enough money to begin targeting unlikely battlegrounds, including habitually blue states like Minnesota, New Mexico, and Oregon.

On the Democratic side, the unlikely top fundraiser for the quarter appears to be Pete Buttigieg. The South Bend, Indiana, mayor says his campaign raised nearly $25 million from nearly 300,000 donors, for an average donation of about $85. Unlike several more progressive rivals, Buttigieg has been courting large donors, appearing at nearly 50 large-dollar fundraisers, including on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. Buttigieg’s surge in the polls seems to have leveled off, as his campaign has struggled to make inroads with voters of color. But Buttigieg has the resources to compete for the long haul, with more than $22 million cash on hand.

Joe Biden, who is coming off an unsteady first debate performance but is still leading in national polls, raised $21.5 million for the quarter. The total is underwhelming, and not just because the former vice president was bested by the boyish Mayor Pete.

Unlike other candidates who launched their candidacies in the first quarter, Biden did not officially declare his bid until April 25th. But his Q2 total includes his opening fundraising surge, $6.3 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. Still, Biden is showing breadth of support, in addition to raking in big bucks. The campaign touts 265,000 donors, with 97 percent of donations under $200.

Elizabeth Warren delivered perhaps the most impressive result for the quarter. Despite swearing off the type fundraising events where big donors trade dollars for access and influence, the Massachusetts senator raised $19.1 million from nearly 384,000 donors, with an average donation of about $28.

Warren’s decision not to hold traditional big-dollar fundraisers was a high-risk move, but it appears to be paying significant rewards. Warren outraised Bernie Sanders, who has a similar grassroots fundraising orientation, despite his advantage of entering the 2020 race with a nationwide network from his 2016 bid. 

Sanders, no slouch, raised $18 million for the quarter — essentially equaling his first quarter haul. His grassroots money machine was fueled by average donations of $18, with 99 percent of contributions coming in at $100 or less. (The $24 million figure touted below includes a $6 million transfer from other campaign accounts.)

Kamala Harris may have killed it in the first Democratic debates, but she’s trailing the leaders in the money chase. The California senator raised $12 million for the quarter, including a $2 million post-debate surge, from roughly 280,000 donors. While she’s not exactly hurting for cash, it’s notable that Harris’ combined total for the first two quarters ($23 million) is less than Buttigieg’s haul for this quarter alone.

Most other candidates have been mum on their money totals. But a few back-of-the-pack Democrats have disclosed their donation totals:

Michael Bennet, the senator from Colorado, has raised $2.8 million.

Steve Bullock, the Montana governor has raised $2 million.

The struggling campaign of former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper has reportedly raised $1 million, despite running a centrist-donor friendly campaign. (Taking responsibility for the sorry state of his campaign, Hick has admitted to not naturally “being real smooth with wealthy donors.”)

As second-quarter donation totals continue to roll in, this post will be updated.

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