(Tom Toles/The Washington Post)

I’m Henry Olsen, and this is Round 11. With so many Democrats here for me to comment on, I sure hope it doesn’t take one to know one.

The Commentary

With almost all the serious contenders already in and nearly three months until the first televised debate, there’s not much going on that generates headlines. That’s one reason the candidates’ first-quarter fundraising has attracted notice: It’s the only thing journalists and pundits can seize upon to measure each candidate’s appeal. The trouble is that money has a very poor track record of predicting ultimate success.

It’s a little-known fact that the candidate who had raised the most money at the end of the year before the Iowa caucuses has lost three of the past five open races in both parties. In 2008, Hillary Clinton had outraised Barack Obama by December 2007, and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney sparred for the title of biggest GOP fundraiser. None of those people were their party’s nominee. In 2016, Jeb! Bush swamped the field with his super PAC fundraising, only to fizzle early and drop out of the race after South Carolina. Money doesn’t buy love, and it certainly doesn’t buy votes by itself.

Sustained fundraising can yield important clues about a candidate’s level of support. If someone comes from nowhere, as Ben Carson did in 2016, and raises over $60 million from small donors, it shows his message is resonating. Thus it was not terribly surprising that the political neophyte outlasted former governor Mike Huckabee in the race. Carson was getting more money than Huckabee while making a similar appeal to religious conservative voters.

It’s too early to make similar prognostications in the Democratic race. Every candidate taps their most loyal supporters for the initial push. If they can’t raise a few million dollars coming out of the gate, they shouldn’t be coming out of the gate to begin with. Right now, the fact that Pete Buttigieg raised $7 million or that Bernie Sanders raised about three times as much as Elizabeth Warren doesn’t mean much. What will matter is how those numbers develop over time and, most importantly, how candidates use whatever resources they have to develop a message that resonates with voters.

Because message always trumps money. Always.

— Henry Olsen

The Ranking

Ranking not showing? Click here.

Position Challenger Change Over Last Ranking
1. Kamala D. Harris
2. Bernie Sanders
3. Joe Biden
4. Pete Buttigieg
5. Beto O’Rourke UP 1
6. Cory Booker UP 2
7. Elizabeth Warren DOWN 2
8. Amy Klobuchar DOWN 1
9. Stacey Abrams UP 3
10. Kirsten Gillibrand DOWN 1
11. Michael Bennet UP 2
12. John Hickenlooper DOWN 2
13. Julián Castro DOWN 2
14. Michael Bloomberg UP 1
15. Jay Inslee DOWN 1

Also receiving votes: Tim Ryan

Last week’s ranking: Round 10 | Joe Biden is getting dragged down by his own hands

Following week’s ranking: Round 12 | Bernie walked into the lion’s den and came out a winner

Don’t forget to click on the yellow highlighted text above to expand the Ranking Committee’s annotations. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments. We’ll see you for the next ranking. Until then, see if message trumps money in your life, too — we’re sure the grocery store wouldn’t mind you paying in policy positions.


Read more on 2020:

Henry Olsen: Biden and Sanders are the front-runners. They’ll need different voters to win.

Molly Roberts: How Pete Buttigieg stole Beto O’Rourke’s mojo

David Byler: Why hasn’t Elizabeth Warren achieved liftoff?

Jennifer Rubin: At least one Democrat sounded comfortable talking foreign policy

Greg Sargent: Trump has one big advantage heading into 2020. Here’s a progressive response to it.