Buttigieg, Sanders Rake in Cash While Struggling in Polls

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(Bloomberg) -- Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders are the top fundraisers of the 2020 Democratic race so far. It’s not helping them catch on with voters.

A strong showing in fundraising used to translate to prominence in the polls. But in 2019, candidates with low or dropping poll numbers have been leading the money chase.

Although candidates have until Oct. 15 to disclose their third-quarter haul, the results released so far confirm that trend. Sanders, who had his best quarter to date, with $25.3 million, continues to lead the pack with a total of $61 million. Buttigieg is in second place, with $19.1 million raised in the third quarter, bringing his total since joining the race to $51 million.

Yet, despite their bulging war chests, Buttigieg is languishing in fourth place in the polls, with around 5%, while Sanders is stuck in third at 18%, behind Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

Biden tops the polls at 27.2% in the RealClearPolitics average, though he was in fifth place in fundraising in the second quarter, with $22 million raised through the end of June. Biden hasn’t yet provided his third-quarter numbers.

Biden has been trailing Kamala Harris, who has fallen to fifth place in national polls, even as her fundraising has held steady: She raised $11.6 million in the third quarter, her campaign said, down slightly from her prior total of $11.8 million.

Sanders’ continued funding dominance comes even though he has dropped behind fellow progressive Warren for second place in the polls. The Massachusetts senator was third in fundraising at the end of the second quarter, and has yet to report a third-quarter total.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which analyzes political fundraising, says the disconnect may have to do with the kind of donor bases that back candidates.

Sanders, for example, is relying solely on small-dollar donors, who gave an average of about $18. He entered the race with one of the largest political email lists, which he built while challenging Hillary Clinton for the 2016 nomination. The campaign can tap those small-dollar donors over and over again. Nearly all of Sanders’ contributors are still well short of giving the maximum contribution amount of $2,800.

Buttigieg has also built a strong fundraising base. Small-dollar donors gave about 49% of his funding, Federal Election Commission records show, and the campaign says it has more than 580,000 donors. Unlike Sanders, Buttigieg’s campaign also holds closed-door fundraisers for deeper pocketed donors who can give contributions of $2,800. Top Democratic contributors and fundraisers, including film industry moguls David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg and Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour have all supported him.

Donors have also proven eager to support candidates like Cory Booker, who currently stands at 1.4% in the RealClearPolitics average. His campaign announced that it needed to raise $1.7 million on Sept. 21 to remain a viable candidate. The gambit worked. He ended up bringing in $2.2 million in 10 days, and had his best quarterly total yet, raising $6 million. He also met a requirement the Democratic National Committee has set for participating in the November debates by reaching 165,000 unique donors.

Krumholz warns that fundraising prowess at this point in the race is no predictor of continued support from donors.

“Money is not destiny,” she said. “It’s somewhat reflective of popularity and viability, but can change with a statement or a news story.”

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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