Democrats are sounding the alarm on Joe Biden’s lackluster fundraising, with some warning the presumed frontrunner for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination doesn’t have the resources to run a full-fledged campaign with less than four months until voting begins.
The former vice president enters the final three months of the year with less than $9 million in the bank, according to newly filed campaign finance reports. By comparison, Bernie Sanders has nearly $34 million and Elizabeth Warren has nearly $26 million. Even Pete Buttigieg, who’s polling in the single digits, has more than twice as much campaign cash available as Biden.
Biden’s showing represents the most striking financial gap for a supposed Democratic frontrunner in recent history. And while Biden still has access to many of the party’s top donors and time to make up for the disparity, some Democrats see his third-quarter fundraising as an ominous sign for his long-term viability.
“You can’t run a campaign in Iowa, New Hampshire, etc. and start working on Super Tuesday states with that,” said Tim Bottaro, a Sioux City, Iowa attorney supporting Buttigieg. “He has the ability to raise more if he sounds the alarm, but it doesn’t look good.”
Biden, who has fallen behind Warren in recent polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, is banking on strong performances in South Carolina and other southern states later in the calendar, where he can capitalize on his strength with black voters. But given his current financial standing, some Democrats are questioning how strong of a candidate he will be at that point in the primary process.
“Biden’s path to the nomination depends on being able to advertise and organize in the Super Tuesday states,” Dan Pfeiffer, a former adviser to President Barack Obama, said on Twitter. “Unless something changes dramatically in Q4, he doesn’t have the money to run full campaigns in the early states let alone what comes after,”
Biden has far less in the bank than the top Democratic candidates during the past few cycles. At this point in 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign had nearly $33 million in the bank, while Sanders’ 2016 campaign had $27 million at their disposal. In 2008, Clinton had $50 million in the bank, while Obama’s campaign had nearly $36 million.
Leading 2020 candidates are already making investments to win delegates in the states beyond the earliest caucuses and primaries.
“What we have seen time after time is that candidates get themselves through Iowa and New Hampshire and then run out of money,” said Rufus Gifford, the head of fundraising for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.
Biden raised less than both Sanders and Warren this past quarter, and his woes are in part due to his weaker showing in online fundraising. Small-dollar donors accounted for less than one-third of Biden’s cash haul last quarter, the lowest percentage of any major candidate. By comparison, roughly 60 percent of the donations Sanders and Warren brought in came from small dollar donors.
“Online fundraising is now the mother’s milk in the primary season,” said Rob Stein, a longtime Democratic activist who held a fundraiser for Buttigieg. “If you can stay high visibility, win some early primary victories, or have some good showings, that online community becomes wildly energized, whereas cranking up major dollar fundraising is extraordinarily labor intensive both for the campaign and for the candidate.”
Biden’s underwhelming fundraising is likely to only heighten the inclination of his allies to create a super PAC on his behalf, which his campaign has publicly disavowed.
“Will he need additional resources? Maybe. He’s fighting a multifront war. Does the Trump onslaught begin to take his toll? Would an outside entity be helpful in taking on the president and defending his family from attacks? Is it a smart strategic decision to push back with some of these things? I generally think the answer to that question is yes,” said Mark Riddle, a Democratic strategist who has participated in talks around establishing a super PAC for Biden during the primary.
The Biden campaign shrugged off concerns about their fundraising.
“The fundamental question about fundraising is: Do you have what you need to run your race? And we do,” said Biden deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield.
And off course, money isn’t everything. History suggests that candidates who trail in the money race at this point in a presidential campaign can still go on to become their party’s nominee. Trump was well behind his rivals in terms of cash on hand at this point in the 2016 GOP primary. And the same goes for John Kerry in the 2004 Democratic primary and John McCain in the 2008 Republican primary.
Campaigns can tap into local supporters in primary states to make up some of the cash disparity, said Jackie Norris, the Obama campaign’s Iowa state director in 2008.
“Campaigns get creative,” she said. “It’s amazing what local parties will do and what donors will do to support candidates when resources are limited.”