WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders said, “I hate asking people for money” — and then asked for money. Joe Biden’s campaign warned that President Donald Trump would “feel like he won” if a fundraising goal wasn’t reached. And Beto O’Rourke offered to “try to text you” in exchange for $5.
In the days and hours before Monday’s third-quarter fundraising deadline, Democratic White House hopefuls were pleading for campaign cash, making appeals on social media and collectively blasting out more than 80 emails asking supporters to “chip in” $5, $10 or $50.
With the Iowa caucuses approaching in February, there’s a growing sense of urgency as the primary becomes a fierce battle for a limited pool of cash that could make the difference between staying in the race and heading for the exits. Those who continue to muddle along in the lower tier will not only face challenges paying for advertising to amplify their message, but they are also likely to struggle reaching fundraising thresholds set by the Democratic National Committee to qualify for future debates.
Top-tier candidates like Sanders, a Vermont senator, former Vice-President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts are anticipated to be among the leaders in the field. But others are facing pressure to post competitive numbers or get out, something that might not happen soon enough for some angsty Democrats.
“If you are being outraised 3-to-1 by Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, you have no viable path to victory,” said Rufus Gifford, Barack Obama’s former finance director. “Even if you can compete in the early states … shortly thereafter you will run out of money.”
Cory Booker recently warned that unless he juiced his fundraising numbers by an additional $1.7 million, he’d likely have to drop out, stating that he didn’t “believe people should stay in this just to stay in it.” But the New Jersey senator announced he surpassed his goal on Monday, raising $2 million after enlisting help from Hillary Clinton and his girlfriend, the actress Rosario Dawson.
Regardless, he will still lag behind the top contenders even if he has an outstanding quarter.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who has also struggled to raise money, announced Monday that he’s applying for public financing, turning to a fund that is replenished by those who volunteer to chip in $3 from their taxes. He hopes it will supplement his campaign with a $2 million fundraising boost.
The third quarter is coming to a close as Trump faces an impeachment inquiry in Congress related to his attempts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden. The development has scrambled politics in Washington but has turned into a fundraising rallying cry for both parties.
Trump has turned his outrage over the inquiry into a flood of campaign cash. Trump and the Republican National Committee reported raising $13 million in the three days after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the probe last week. And Trump’s son Eric tweeted later that the total grew to $15 million.
That’s on top of what’s already expected to be a major haul for the quarter. Trump and the RNC previously reported pulling in more than $210 million since the start of 2019 — more than his Democratic rivals combined.
That’s a source of worry for some Democrats concerned it will be hard to catch Trump once a nominee is selected.
“Trump’s presidency is wounded but not mortally wounded, and their operation is as good as it gets,” Gifford said.
Like Trump, some Democrats have treated the impeachment inquiry as a fundraising opportunity. Biden ramped up Facebook ad spending that seized on unfounded allegations made against him and his son Hunter by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York.
A recent series of Biden ads asking for donations said Trump was “trying to distract you from what’s really at stake for your family by spreading lies about my family,” and his campaign says they’ve seen a significant uptick in donations.
Sanders, Warren and California Sen. Kamala Harris have also made fundraising appeals based around impeachment.
But in a sign that the primary could be taking a bitter turn, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has also struggled to raise money, took aim at her rivals for capitalizing on impeachment.
“Candidates for POTUS who are fundraising off ‘impeachment’ are undermining credibility of inquiry in eyes of American people, further dividing our already fractured country,” she tweeted on Monday. “Please stop. We need responsible, patriotic leaders who put the interests of our country before their own.”
Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press