In this edition: The first round of the money race, the brokered convention nightmare scenarios, and the return of Roy Moore.
I wonder if this newsletter should adopt some scary fundraising-style tropes. READER: WE CAN’T MAKE IT WITHOUT YOUR HELP. THIS IS THE TRAILER.
The first round of fundraising for the 2020 elections is over, we have the numbers, and we've learned plenty about the electoral map and the candidates in the strongest position to conquer it.
Celebrity donors? There were lots of them, several (not surprisingly) for California's own Kamala Harris.
Donors hedging their bets? Lots of them, too; at least 1,600 Democrats giving to multiple candidates.
The overall picture, from the top of the ballot to the federal races further down, was of Republicans stacking up money through fundraisers, of the Democrats' donor base growing larger than ever, and of nobody really scaring any rivals out of the race.
Donald Trump. No president has ever declared for reelection earlier than this one; accordingly, no president has ever piled up this much money for a reelection campaign. The president's campaign and two allied super PACs raised a combined $39 million in the first quarter; they have raised $168 million since the president filed for reelection, which was the day of his inauguration. The campaign alone, raised $31 million in the quarter.
That's plenty, but it isn't making Democrats quake. Why not? It's not dramatically ahead of what previous presidents, quarter by quarter, had raised. In 2011, President Barack Obama filed for reelection at the start of the second fundraising quarter; when it was over, he had raised $46.3 million. (Obama's frequent fundraising was treated by conservatives, and some of the media, like a scandal.)
What does worry Democrats is Trump's success at activating small-dollar, recurring donors, something his campaign does with frequent email blasts urging that supporters chip in to build support for the border wall, or combat Democratic lies about collusion, and so on. Per the FEC report, 55 percent of the money the campaign and affiliated committees raised in the first quarter came from donations under $200.
The Democratic challengers. There are 16 Democrats who began raising money last quarter; combined, they raised $89.5 million. The closest comparison to this cycle is the 2008 primary, which also saw most candidates declaring before the end of the first quarter of the year before the primaries; that year, Democrats raised a combined $85.4 million. Adjusted for inflation, the candidates have raised a little bit less than their counterparts in 2007. The numbers, adjusted slightly to reduce the general election money (not able to be used in a primary) collected by Beto O'Rourke and Amy Klobuchar:
Bernie Sanders: $18.2 million
Kamala Harris: $12 million
Beto O'Rourke: $9.1 million
Pete Buttigieg: $7.1 million
Elizabeth Warren: $6 million
Cory Booker: $5 million
Amy Klobuchar: $4.6 million
Kirsten Gillibrand: $3 million
Jay Inslee: $2.3 million
John Hickenlooper: $2 million
Andrew Yang: $1.8 million
Marianne Williamson: $1.6 million
Tulsi Gabbard: $1.5 million
Julián Castro: $1.1 million
John Delaney: $300,000
Wayne Messam: $43,500
What changed since 2007? Two things: The departure of Hillary Clinton from Democratic politics, and the related toxification of “big money” in politics. In 2007 and 2015, Clinton tapped the largest high-dollar fundraising network in Democratic politics, while insurgent Democrats appealed to donors who were uncomfortable with the Clinton network. In 2007, the insurgent candidates' portfolios included a lot of high-dollar donors; in 2015, they didn't. Barack Obama managed to nearly match Clinton's numbers with only around 100,000 donors; Bernie Sanders fell $7 million short of Obama's numbers with more than 525,000 donors.
That means that this cycle's front-running Democrats have built larger grass-roots donor networks than previous candidates; that, in turn, means they have more donors they can return to than donors who have maxed out.
The Senate. The Senate map in 2020 may feature more competitive races for Republicans than Democrats, a reversal of the situation in 2018. But Democrats would need to run the table to win control, and none of the Republicans in states seen as potential Democratic pickups showed any slack.
In Colorado, Sen. Cory Gardner raised a little more than $2 million; Mike Johnston, a former Democratic legislator who ran for governor in 2018, raised $1.8 million. But unlike Gardner (who entered his 2014 race very late), Johnston has not found his party willing to clear a path for him; two new Democrats jumped into the race this month, auguring a long and competitive primary.
In Maine, Sen. Susan Collins raised $1.5 million, ahead of her usual pace; she won her 2014 race in a rout, raising $6.2 million total to defeat a Democrat making her first (credible) bid for any office. Democrats have raised nearly four times as much money in escrow for whatever candidate emerges from a primary to face Collins. But they don't have a contender yet. That's a problem for the party in Georgia, Iowa, and North Carolina, where first-term Republicans raised $1.8 million, $1.7 million, and $1.2 million, with no challengers on the horizon. The flip side: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) raised $1.4 million and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) raised $1.9 million ahead of races where Republicans are waiting for two specific candidates — Gov. Chris Sununu and 2018 candidate John James, respectively — to decide whether they're running.
Only one incumbent Republican, appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), was outraised by a Democratic competitor. She pulled in $2.1 million; Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut and gun safety activist, raised $4.1 million in a quarter that saw him spook a primary challenger out of the race. Here's the other flip side: Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who Republicans consider a dead man walking, raised $1.6 million, while challenger Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) got $2.1 million, in part by adding in money from his House account and creating a joint fundraising committee.
The House. Dan McCready, the Democrat running in a special election in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, achieved something few House candidates can say they did: He out-fundraised several candidates for president. McCready put up $1.6 million in the first quarter, a period dominated by news about how a “ballot-stuffing” operation left the state unable to certify the November 2018 election for the seat.
McCready was the leader in a class of strong fundraisers. At least 14 House Democrats raised more than $500,000 in the first quarter, all but one of them (New Jersey's Josh Gottheimer) freshmen members. By contrast, just six House Republicans raised more than half a million dollars; the leader was Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who has built a national donor base from his notoriety as the top Republican (and top Trump ally) on the House Intelligence Committee. Nunes raised $1.2 million for what is typically a very safe seat; the five other top Republican fundraisers all faced tough reelection bids in 2018.
The upshot, for both parties, was positive: The presidential race is not sucking money out of downballot races. On the left, the “resistance” that poured money into 2018 campaigns, remains mobilized; suburban Democrats such as Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-Tex.) are running ahead of their pace from that cycle. Some Democrats who flipped seats in more working-class areas, such as Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), are putting up much less money; the cleanest Republican path to a House majority is by flipping back districts that backed Trump in 2016, such as Van Drew's.
"Bernie Sanders and his wife earned $1.7 million in past two years, returns show,” by Michael Kranish and Sean Sullivan
You wanted the tax returns? You got the tax returns.
“Bernie Sanders imagines a new progressive approach to foreign policy,” by Benjamin Wallace-Wells
An interview with the senator about his view of how the presidency would end wars and foreign entanglements, while more aggressively confronting right-wing authoritarianism.
“Trump focuses on divisive messages as 2020 reelection bid takes shape,” by Seung Min Kim and Toluse Olorunnipa
Many Republicans believe that the late-stage focus on immigration was the nail in the coffin for GOP House candidates in 2018. The president is not among those Republicans.
“Who might make the Democratic debate stage?” by Geoffrey Skelley
Lots of people, it turns out. Already, 14 candidates seem set to make the debate stage. This is not a fun article to read if you are Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam.
“Wall Street and finance execs spread their donations across the 2020 Democratic field in the first quarter,” by Brian Schwartz, John W. Schoen, and Emma Newburger
Even as they've turned away from corporate PACs and bundlers, a number of Democrats have long-standing donor relationships that are paying off.
Every few weeks, there’s a fresh round of speculation about how Democrats could wind up fighting their primary all the way to the convention. The latest round was inspired by Jonathan Martin’s look at the frustrated Democrats who believe Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) cannot defeat PresidentTrump in 2020, but see him with a chance at winning the party’s nomination.
“If I had to bet today, we’ll get to Milwaukee and not have a nominee,” said Leah Daughtry, a longtime Democratic strategist who had fought, unsuccessfully, to stop the party from reducing the voting power of superdelegates.
The convention nightmares revolve around one candidate: Sanders.
There’s not much Democratic angst about a long contest between most combinations of their 2020 candidate pool. There’s plenty of angst about Sanders, who in 2016 showed that he was willing to continue pursuing the party’s nomination, and accruing delegates, after he was mathematically eliminated from contention. And Sanders's opponents believe, much as Trump's Republican opponents believed in 2016, that handing this particular insurgent the party's nomination would be tantamount to throwing the election.
The sort of Democrats now grumbling about Sanders were the ones who tore their hair out at the 2016 convention, where anger at the power of superdelegates and a conveniently timed hack of the Democratic National Committee inspired protests and cries of “Bernie or Bust” by activists who ended up walking away from the party.
If you're a regular Trailer reader, you know the basics: Every Democratic primary assigns delegates on a proportional basis, giving any candidate who gets more than 15 percent of the vote in a state (or a congressional district) a delegate. In 2008 and 2016, this led to primaries that did not end until the final vote was cast. So why are Democrats nervous now? They have a few particular nightmares in mind.
The 1968 nightmare. When Democrats think of real, blood-in-the-streets disarray, they think of Chicago. In the last contest held before the rise of the modern primary, just 15 states let voters pick delegates; Hubert Humphrey won exactly zero of those primaries. He clinched the nomination thanks to the support of party bosses in the states, after the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy left hundreds of delegates up for grabs.
A modern version of this scenario would bring three or more Democrats to Milwaukee with no majority of delegates, but a popular vote (and perhaps a delegate) lead for Sanders. On the second ballot — they are barred from the first one — superdelegates could hand the nomination to a candidate who ran behind Sanders, citing fears of the senator's electability in November. The 1968 convention blew up the Democratic Party; so would this scenario, with Sanders and his supporters believing they had been cheated out of victory by the party establishment.
The 1972 nightmare. George McGovern was the first true insurgent to win a Democratic nomination, coming into the party's Miami Beach convention after winning 15 of the 31 state primaries. But he did so with just 25.3 percent of the popular vote; overall, he'd won around 70,000 fewer votes than Hubert Humphrey. What happened next is too weedsy even for this newsletter (feel free to do some recommended reading), but the upshot was a McGovern victory followed by a (mostly temporary) schism with more conservative Democrats.
The modern Democratic Party is far more cohesive than the 1972 version, but a scenario in which Sanders had a delegate lead but no clear mandate, and walked out of Milwaukee with the nomination, would leave plenty of bitter feelings; supporters of Hillary Clinton's 2016 bid, having actually won the nomination by millions of votes and been called thieves anyway, could be vocal in their frustration.
The 2016 nightmare. It's always 2016 somewhere, and the outcome of that year's primary — a clear win by an “establishment” candidate over Sanders — led to more intra-Democratic division than the party had seen in decades. It's the least of these Democratic nightmares; even the Democrats most worried about Sanders believe he would be defeated in a one-on-one contest if the race narrowed down after Super Tuesday. But any win that came on a second ballot would involve the votes of superdelegates. Even in a situation where they affirmed the popular choice of primary voters, that would resurrect many of the angry feelings that Sanders die-hards felt in the final stretch of 2016.
Republican U.S. Senate primary in Alabama (Mason-Dixon, 625 registered Alabama voters)
Roy Moore — 27%
Mo Brooks — 18%
Bradley Byrne — 13%
Gary Palmer — 11%
Del Marsh — 4%
Tim Jones — 2%
The most politically endangered Democrat in America is Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), who narrowly won his three-year partial term in 2017 after Roy Moore was brought low by scandal. Jones has actually half-jokingly encouraged Moore to run again; and here, for the first time, a pollster gives Moore an early lead if he does run.
There's a caveat: Alabama has runoffs. Moore, who had clinched the 2017 nomination as an insurgent anti-Washington conservative, hurt his reputation badly when he lost — not to mention why he lost. Brooks, Palmer and Byrne, who all have strong local support in their congressional districts, could likely court national Republican support if any of them was forced into a runoff with Moore. (Only Byrne has declared his candidacy.)
The only outstanding question would be whether Moore, who has been on a PR and legal tear against the women who accused him of sexual misconduct, would be able to frame the race as a way to settle scores with the elite media. Another caveat: Moore's low-energy campaign, which rarely put him in front of voters, was a non-scandal-centric reason why Republicans cooled to him.
Bill Weld against the machine. While Sanders voters worry that the “Democratic establishment” is going to shape the party's 2020 primary, the Republican establishment isn't playing around: It is avowedly working to stop Bill Weld, the first (and only) Republican challenging President Trump, from becoming a real candidate.
“The RNC and the Republican Party are firmly behind the president,” the RNC said in a statement after Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, made his bid official. “Any effort to challenge the president’s nomination is bound to go absolutely nowhere.”
There's real force behind those words. In January, the RNC voted to give its “undivided support” to a Trump candidacy. It stopped short of a proposed change that would have ended the current process by which candidates can make it to the convention floor — a majority of delegates in five state or territories. Weld has said that his campaign will focus on accruing delegates in the 20 primary contests where unaffiliated voters (those not registered with either party) can cross over. But party rules dictate that delegates to the convention must be registered Republicans, and it would be relatively easy for the party to unbind the delegates won by Weld.
The only polling of the first primary where unaffiliated voters matter came from the University of New Hampshire last month; Trump was preferred by 68 percent of Republican voters, over a field of Weld and the not-yet (and maybe not ever) declared John Kasich, the Ohio governor whose 2016 campaign carried just one state — his own — over Trump’s. Weld's role in the primary is less as an electoral threat to Trump than of a voice who can attack him in the media, much as Howard Schultz has become an antagonist for Democrats.
Virginia. The question facing Democrats here is not whether Gov. Ralph Northam will resign, as he's made clear that he won't. The question's what sort of damage he could do to Democrats down the ballot. Polling has shown Democrats still narrowly ahead of Republicans before November's legislative races, but Northam has been humiliated in his attempt to head back out in public and help the ticket. The latest embarrassment: He canceled a fundraising appearance with state Sen. David Marsden, who has no serious challenge to reelection, after the arrival of protesters angry about his racist yearbook photo and his mangled abortion comments. (These were separate protesters, but they sort of worked in tandem.)
Bernie Sanders. His Midwest swing ended about as strongly as he could have hoped, with a Fox News town hall that attracted more than 2.5 million viewers — bigger, the network pointed out, than the CNN town halls that nearly every Democrat has done. (Other Democrats have sat for interviews on Fox, but not a town hall.)
The undisputed highlight of the event, for Sanders, was a sort of “try on the gloves” moment for Medicare-for-all. Co-host Bret Baier asked how many audience members got health-care coverage through their employers, then how many would willingly trade it for Medicare. Most of the hands stayed up.
“Every year, millions of workers get up in the morning and their employer has changed the insurance that they have!” Sanders said, visibly thrilled to be making that argument in front of Fox's conservative national audience.
Andrew Yang. He held the largest outdoor rally of his campaign on Monday, gathering around 1,000 supporters on the lower steps of the Lincoln Memorial for a windblown series of speeches from supporters and the candidate. Yang donned a scarf and delivered his typical, low-key argument for why he could transform government with the power of math.
“I'm going to be the first president to use PowerPoint at the State of the Union,” Yang said. “You're going to actually get something out of the State of the Union, instead of these bizarre theater performances we're subjected to every year. People are all trying to stand up and clap, and not clap — like, what is this? It's so weird.”
Joe Biden. He delivered a eulogy for the late South Carolina senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, with a line about the former segregationist that could ring out in his own (still not official) presidential bid: "“People can change. We can learn from the past and build a better future.”
Elizabeth Warren. She rolled out a plan for public lands ahead of her first big trip to western primary states: a moratorium on all drilling in those lands, a reversal of Trump orders that privatized any lands, free entry to public parks, and a tenfold increase in renewable energy (wind and solar) generated on public lands.
Pete Buttigieg. For the second time, the first gay candidate for the presidency to enter the top tier of a primary will deliver a speech to gay rights activists; in May, he'll address the Human Rights Campaign's Las Vegas dinner.
. . . eight days until Democrats head to Houston for the She the People summit
. . . 11 days until Democrats head to Las Vegas for the SEIU's summit
. . . 75 days until the end of the next fundraising quarter
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