Potential Trump 2020 Challengers Bank Millions in Campaign Cash

(Bloomberg) -- Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren raised $35.5 million since President Donald Trump won office but she may have had her sights on more than just getting re-elected.

She’s one of a dozen congressional Democrats who are either considering or are potential candidates for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination and is sitting on more cash than any of the others that have filed public reports.

Following her easy victory last month in Massachusetts, in one of the nation’s most Democratic states, Warren now has $12.5 million in her campaign account and can legally transfer any portion of that to a presidential bid, if she follows through on suggestions she may seek her party’s nomination to challenge the first-term Republican president.

But one of the most prolific fundraisers of the 2018 campaign, Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, has little left from his unsuccessful, against-the-odds bid to topple Senator Ted Cruz.

The 46-year-old reported having just $476,692 in cash on hand, after spending $77.6 million to finish 2.6 percentage points behind the incumbent in a state where Republicans control all statewide offices. That’s among the lowest balances for the Democratic lawmakers believed to be contemplating White House bids. Still, he’s shown a strong ability to raise money quickly when needed: he set a quarterly fundraising record for Senate candidates by pulling in more than $38 million in the third quarter of 2018.

Campaign Reports

Warren and O’Rourke were among those required to report their latest campaign finance totals to the Federal Election Commission by late Thursday. Three senators who might mount White House bids, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, didn’t have to report because they didn’t face voters in November.

Among those who did have to file for a period that covered Oct. 18 through Nov. 26, the new reports show a wide spread in potential seed money for a presidential primary race.

The group of Washington lawmakers is only a subset of the dozens of Democrats thinking of running, a list that also includes governors and at least three billionaires.

Warren, a liberal star despised by Wall Street, spent $23.5 million on her way to 24-point victory on Nov. 6. She told reporters in Washington earlier this week that she doesn’t have a timeline for making a decision about running for president. “I said I would take a hard look at it after the election and that’s what I’m doing,” she said.

Early Money

A flush congressional campaign account can provide a leg up in the early months of a presidential nomination race. With numerous candidates expected to announce their intentions in January and February, fundraising and cash on hand at the end of the first quarter of 2019 will be viewed as an important benchmark for a candidate’s national appeal.

Since 2007, 10 sitting senators have sought the presidency, and all but one, Barack Obama, used money raised as lawmakers to fund their White House bids. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton of New York transferred the most, roughly $10 million, to her presidential campaign in 2007.

While that’s a drop in the bucket -- presidential candidates typically raise tens of millions of dollars in the primary season to prove they’re serious contenders -- the early money can be used to hire staff and shore up support in critical early proving grounds like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Trump’s Campaign

Trump has already been raising money to secure a second term, more than $100 million since taking office. That’s an unusually large amount for a president in the first two years of his term and includes contributions to his main campaign fund and a pair of joint fundraising committees that benefit it and the Republican National Committee.

The run-up to last month’s midterm congressional elections provided an opportunity for Trump and potential Democratic challengers to gather names, email addresses, phone numbers and other data on potential supporters and donors. Warren, O’Rourke and Harris were among the most aggressive on that front.

Potential Democratic candidateCash on hand
Sen. Elizabeth Warren $ 12,503,216  
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand $ 10,535,957  
Sen. Bernie Sanders $ 8,776,283  
Sen. Amy Klobuchar $ 4,362,356  
Sen. Cory Booker$ 4,124,812 (as of Sept. 30)
Sen. Sherrod Brown$ 1,841,913  
Sen. Kamala Harris$ 1,714,383 (as of Sept. 30)  
Rep. Eric Swalwell$ 1,682,312  
Sen. Jeff Merkley$ 1,560,829 (as of Sept. 30)  
Sen. Bob Casey$ 603,125  
Rep. Beto O’Rourke$ 476,692  
Rep. John Delaney$ 77,856 (as of Sept. 30)

Source: Federal Election Commission

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has made previous runs at the Democratic nomination and has indicated he may again, could immediately activate a national fundraising network, should he decided to run for the presidency for a third time.

Outside Washington

Several other Democrats outside of Washington have indicated they are considering bids as well, including Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former Obama administration cabinet official Julian Castro.

There are also three billionaires eyeing the Democratic nomination contest who wouldn’t have to worry much -- if at all -- about fundraising.

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, has said he’s considering a campaign for president. Bloomberg, who invested tens of millions of dollars to help Democrats in 2018, made several stops Tuesday in Iowa, which is scheduled to start the nomination season with its caucuses on Feb. 3, 2020.

Tom Steyer, who spent tens of millions of dollars this year to try to get out the youth vote and also funded an advertising campaign calling for Trump’s impeachment, hosted a town hall-style meeting Tuesday in South Carolina, the nation’s first Southern primary state.

The third billionaire considering a Democratic White House bid is former Starbucks Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz. He’s kept a lower political profile than Steyer and Bloomberg, but has assembled an elite public relations team that includes former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt as he gets ready to release a civic-minded new book, according to CNBC.

Candidates without the financial means to self-finance can turn to ActBlue, a political action committee that Democratic campaigns and causes used to raise $1.6 billion in the 2018 election cycle. It acts, essentially, as an online transaction conduit for Democrats.

The bulk of the $237 million Bernie Sanders raised in his his 2016 campaign came through the service. His legions of small-dollar donors used ActBlue when they gave in response to texted and emailed solicitations for contributions. The senator from Vermont has said he’s contemplating a second White House bid.

Those lists of donors could give him a leg up in raising money from small-dollar donors, but he could have some competition. O’Rourke, who was among those to make extensive use of ActBlue in the midterm campaign, developed a formidable list during his Senate campaign and raised $36.9 million from donors giving $200 or less.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.