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Beto O’Rourke’s huge $6.1 million one-day haul, in context

Beto O'Rourke began a campaign swing through Iowa on March 14, shortly after launching a bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. (Video: Reuters)

In case there was any doubt that Beto O’Rourke’s record-setting fundraising for his 2018 Senate campaign could translate to the presidential stage, he quickly erased it.

O’Rourke’s campaign announced Monday that it raised $6.1 million in the first 24 hours after he announced his campaign last week. The total is notably more than any other Democratic presidential hopeful, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), whose small-dollar fundraising success in 2016 showed just how vast and motivated his base was for his primary against Hillary Clinton. Sanders raised just slightly less — $5.9 million — on his first day. At the time, it was about four times as much as any other candidate’s announced total and was viewed as a massive number.

(Candidates aren’t required to disclose totals until the end of the quarter, nor can the numbers be independently verified until the reports are filed.)

But that’s not the only context in which O’Rourke’s number is hugely impressive. To wit:

  • It’s nearly 8 percent of the total amount he raised in his record-setting Senate campaign ($79.1 million). O’Rourke pulled in $38 million in the third quarter of 2018, also a record.
  • It’s nearly as much as President Trump raised in all of 2015 ($6.6 million), after getting in the campaign in June. (Trump largely relied on self-funding.)
  • It’s more than the following 2016 GOP candidates raised for their entire campaigns: Rick Perry ($1.3 million), Lindsey O. Graham ($4.9 million), Bobby Jindal ($1.2 million), Rick Santorum ($1.9 million), Mike Huckabee ($4.2 million). It’s also getting close to what Chris Christie ($8.6 million) and Scott Walker ($9.3 million) raised for their whole campaigns. On the Democratic side, it’s about as much as Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley raised in total ($6.3 million).
  • It’s more than the combined totals of Kamala D. Harris ($1.5 million) and Elizabeth Warren ($300,000) in their first 24 hours and Amy Klobuchar, Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper (about $1 million each) in their first two days.
  • It’s nearly one-quarter of what both Hillary Clinton ($26 million) and Barack Obama ($25 million) raised in the entire first quarter of 2007 — the comparable period to this one for the 2008 race. Both entered the campaign in January, giving themselves more than two full months to raise those totals.

Fundraising obviously isn’t the be-all, end-all in politics, as Trump showed in 2016 when he was strongly outspent and still won. But in an extremely crowded Democratic primary field — and a Trumpified news environment in which the president is always a center of attention — getting noticed is at a premium. And strong fundraising totals like this can serve notice that a politician like O’Rourke has a real base of support.

After launching his 2020 campaign on March 14, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke has found himself at the center of many newsworthy moments. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

There was also some question about whether Democratic donors truly loved O’Rourke in 2018, or whether they just loved the guy who happened to be running against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) — a top foe of liberals in the Senate.

A good operation can hit up old donors and quickly rack up solid early fundraising totals. But O’Rourke has largely eschewed the kind of elaborate campaign infrastructure we’re used to. He’s also competing with a bunch of people who have also run for Senate and other statewide offices and built large donor lists, and his totals are gaudy in comparison.

If he can keep raising funds like this, it will be difficult to treat him like anything other than a real, top contender for the Democratic nomination.