What the Early Democratic Fundraising Numbers Mean

Senator Kamala Harris launches her campaign for President of the United States at a rally in her hometown of Oakland, Calif., January 27, 2019. (Elijah Nouvelage/REUTERS)

Democratic presidential campaigns are starting to release their fundraising totals for the first quarter. The early numbers show some surprisingly good news for Pete Buttigieg ($7 million) and good news for Kamala Harris ($12 million) and Bernie Sanders ($18 million).

Some race-watchers think that if a campaign doesn’t announce their total fundraising quickly, it’s a bad sign, but don’t put too much stock in that. Beto O’Rourke didn’t announce his first-day fundraising total for a few days, and then announced his campaign raised $6.1 million, an impressive sum.

None of the announced candidates are likely to quit or alter their plans based upon the first-quarter fundraising numbers. If a candidate is running because he just wants to appear on a debate stage and be taken seriously for a while, he can keep going on a shoestring budget. Last cycle, Jim Webb raised $776,000 and Lincoln Chafee raised $418,000 in the entire cycle. Over in the GOP presidential primary, Jim Gilmore raised $824,000 in the entire cycle and stayed in the race until after the New Hampshire primary.

But sometimes the early fundraising numbers show a candidate is striking a chord that resonates with primary voters. Last cycle, Sanders launched his campaign on April 30 and by the beginning of July, he had raised $15 million – an early indicator that grassroots progressives were looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton and that the Vermont senator fit the bill.

But if there are any candidates who might be feeling a little early pressure, it’s probably the senators. Kirstin Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren — they’re all well-established and represent wealthy states; they presumably already have an established group of loyal donors. Bad fundraising numbers will feed the perception that one or more are getting lost in the crowd.

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