Beto O’Rourke Matches Bernie Sanders’s Pace in 2020 Democratic Fundraising

(Bloomberg) -- Beto O’Rourke raised $9.4 million in just 18 days following his presidential campaign announcement in March, instantly boosting his standing in the primary race by showing that he could match the fundraising pace of Bernie Sanders, who is the current front-runner in both donations and polls.

The former Texas congressman, who set a quarterly fundraising record for Senate candidates during his failed 2018 bid to topple Republican Senator Ted Cruz, raised the money from 218,000 contributions giving an average donation of $43, his campaign said.

Small-dollar grassroots fundraising has become a benchmark for the Democratic candidates, many of whom are shunning large fundraising events and corporate political action committees.

"Not only is this a sign of our grassroots strength during the first two weeks of our campaign, but it is a sign of what’s possible when you put your full trust in the people of this country,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

Sanders, 77, a self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont who lost the nomination in 2016 to Hillary Clinton, said Tuesday he raised $18.2 million in the 41 days since he launched his campaign, leveraging one of the biggest online donor lists in national politics. He has led in polls among the declared Democratic candidates.

O’Rourke, 46, said he raised just more than half that amount in slightly fewer than half as many days.

Other Candidates

California Senator Kamala Harris said Monday she raised $12 million from more than 218,000 individual contributions, while Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, reported collecting $7 million from more than 158,000 donors. The campaign of former technology executive Andrew Yang said it raised $1.7 million during the first quarter of 2019.

The reported totals are impressive, but still less than the $25 million Barack Obama raised during the first quarter of 2007. That score immediately added credibility to the campaign of a man who was then the junior senator from Illinois. There were far fewer candidates competing in that nomination contest than the 15 running so far this year.

The first-quarter numbers offer early evidence of who is generating excitement among the party’s grassroots donors. Candidates must report fundraising and spending to the Federal Election Commission by April 15, but individual campaigns often announce collections shortly after the quarter is over to try to showcase their support.

Some likely candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, may have delayed their entry into the race until after the end of March so that they could avoid the expectations game associated with the first-quarter fundraising.

Small-dollar donors have become a critical source of funds for campaigns, and not just for the money they give. One of the criteria the Democratic Party set for qualifying for the first two presidential debates, scheduled for June and July, is having at least 65,000 donors, with a minimum of 200 donors in at least 20 states.

Fundraising is often seen as a better early indicator of viability than polling, which often measures name recognition as much as voter preference. Still, it’s not a foolproof method of determining eventual electoral success: President Donald Trump reported just $1.9 million in receipts in his first quarter as a candidate, most of which was his own money.

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