The fundraising sweepstakes

First quarter fundraising numbers for the field of presidential candidates are in. President Trump leads the way, having raised $39 million. In total, his campaign and affiliated committees have raised $168 million, the most ever by an incumbent president at this stage, according to the Washington Post.

Among Democrats, Sen. Bernie Sanders had the largest haul, $18.2 million. He was followed by Sen. Kamala Harris at $12 million. Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg were next, raising $9.4 million and $7 million respectively.

Further down the list we find Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($6 million), Sen. Amy Klobuchar ($5.2 million), Sen. Cory Booker ($5.1 million), and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand ($3 million). In the $2-3 million range were, in order, Andrew Yang, Gov. Jay Inslee, John Hickenlooper, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Finally, the total amount raised by Democratic contenders in the first quarter was less than the amount raised by Dem contenders in the first quarter of 2007.

What do these numbers tell us? Not a lot, but more than a little.

A president should be able to raise huge amounts of money. A president who doesn’t is probably dead in the water. A president, or presumptive nominee, who does can’t count on parlaying the funds into victory. Hillary Clinton raised massive amounts of money in 2016 and still lost.

It’s true that Trump almost certainly will not face a serious primary challenge. Thus, the money he has raised so far will be of substantially more use than the money raised so far by his Democratic rivals. But the Democratic nominee won’t be short of funds once he or she is selected.

I don’t read much into the fact that Democratic candidates raised less in the first quarter of this year than Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards did in the first quarter of 2007. I think it means that donors haven’t yet figured out whom to back, in part because Joe Biden might well enter the race but hasn’t done so. I don’t think it signals a diminished commitment to recapturing the White House.

As to these the totals of specific candidates, the most surprising number is Buttigieg’s, given his obscurity. But the number becomes less surprising when one remembers that he’s the darling of a great many LGBT voters. What his fundraising success tells me is that he will have both the wherewithal and the enthusiastic backers to be a factor in the race.

Sanders’ number tells me that Bernie-mania persists. The Vermont socialist will certainly be a factor in the race. I think I already knew that.

The fact that Harris has raised more money than Warren and Booker combined is interesting and a bit surprising, at least to me. So is Klobuchar’s ability to outraise both Booker and Gillibrand. In the absence of Joe Biden, Ms. Minnesota (not so) Nice may be the go-to candidate of wealthy, non-gay donors looking for an establishment candidate to back.

However, current polling suggests that Sens. Harris and Klobuchar are doing better at fundraising than at attracting early support from voters. By contrast, the fundraising success of Sanders and Buttigieg corresponds to good showings in the polls.

Believe it or not, we’re only a little more than two months away from the first Democratic presidential debate. That’s when things will become truly interesting. All the fundraising in the world is unlikely to overcome poor showings in the debates.

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