CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — At midnight, every federal campaign from president on down released its fundraising totals for the final months of 2019. Most had already spoiled the surprises, bragging about their record-setting numbers or burying their less-than-record-setting numbers during one of the many days when voters were distracted by impeachment. But now that we know everything, we've got a clearer image of what happened as the race for president got closer, as Congress went to war over the president, and as one of the world's richest people ran to beat him.
Trump leads Democrats with cash on hand … sort of. Even after spending some money to intervene in the Democrats’ primary against Joe Biden, even after heavy investments in organizing, the Trump campaign started out 2020 with $103 million to spend.
That’s $21 million ahead of Barack Obama’s start in 2012, and it’s more than every remaining Democrat’s war chest, combined. Bernie Sanders had $18 million left to spend; Pete Buttigieg, $14.5 million; Elizabeth Warren, $14 million, Biden, $9 million; Amy Klobuchar, $5 million; Andrew Yang, $4 million; Tulsi Gabbard, $2.8 million; Deval Patrick, $1.4 million; and Michael F. Bennet, $517,000.
That’s $69.2 million all told, all of it about to burned up in the next month and replaced only if the candidates are still competitive. Trump’s advantage is actually a bit smaller than the one Obama enjoyed eight years ago over a similarly divided field.
But that year’s eventual nominee had a super PAC, which only two of these Democrats can say: Biden and Patrick. And these numbers don’t include the functionally bottomless resources of Mike Bloomberg and the slightly scarcer resources of Tom Steyer, for whom “cash on hand” is irrelevant; they can spend whatever they need.
Some of these people are going to run out of money. Five presidential candidates spent more in the past three months than they raised. Sanders blew through $50 million, Buttigieg through $34 million, Warren through $33 million, Yang through $19 million, and Bennet through $2.5 million. Biden narrowly spent less than he raised in the quarter, $22.8 million compared with $23.2 million, and that was made easier because of the Unite the Country super PAC launched in October, allowing him to stockpile some cash.
None of that is unusual. It's the plan, every four years: Do whatever it takes to win Iowa, or New Hampshire, or both, and the momentum will start refilling the campaign account. What is new, since 2016, is how many candidates have the donor base it would take to do that. Three candidates, Sanders, Warren and Gabbard, still raised the majority of their fourth-quarter money from small donors. (Gabbard is far behind in polling but has said she will campaign through to the convention. To be fair, a lot of candidates say that.) With the exception of Patrick, who relied on big donors to make his late start credible, all the other candidates got at least 30 percent of their money from small donors.
And the biggest spenders? So far, Tom Steyer has spent $154 million to run for president and Mike Bloomberg has spent $188 million. These are the largest sums of money, by far, spent by candidates at this point in the primary process.
Left-wing Democratic challengers in the House raised money; Senate challengers didn't. The two highest-profile Democratic primaries on Super Tuesday will be the race for California's 25th district and Texas's 28th district. In the first, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee-backed Christy Smith narrowly outraised left-wing challenger Cenk Uygur; in the second, Justice Democrats-endorsed Jessica Cisneros outraised incumbent Henry Cuellar.
Each of those races was targeted early on by national liberals with clout. That didn't happen in Senate races, even ones in which left-wing groups have promoted certain candidates, and in which Republicans have cheekily urged voters to take a look at them. The left-wing candidates lagged primary opponents in challenges to Republican incumbents. In Maine, Betsy Sweet raised just $89,000, with $55,000 on hand. In North Carolina, state Sen. Erica Smith raised $80,000, with $95,000 on hand. Colorado's Andrew Romanoff fared better, raising more than $313,000. But he was left in the dust by John Hickenlooper, who raised $2.8 million.
Some incumbent senators are slacking. Sen. Gary Peters, a Michigan Democrat, has earned a distinction no politician wants: the only incumbent senator in his party to be outraised by his challenger. For the quarter, Peters raised $2.5 million to the $3.5 million raised by John James, the party’s 2018 nominee in the state, who became a sort of phenom as that campaign was ending.
Other Democrats built war chests at a fairly steady pace, with even Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama beating the field of Republicans who are favored to beat him in November. Jones raised $1.9 million in the fourth quarter; former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville raised more than $530,000, while the late-starting candidacy of former attorney general Jeff Sessions raised around $320,000.
Meanwhile, four Senate Republican incumbents were outraised by challengers in the last three months of 2019: Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, Arizona's Martha McSally, Maine's Susan Collins, and Colorado Cory Gardner. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa nosed ahead of their chief opponents, the ones endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; all of those Democrats cracked $1 million.
Want to rake it in as a House member? Join the impeachment drama. The nine members of the House who raised the most money, from both parties, represent safe seats and have nominal challengers. All of them, from House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), had distinguished themselves to online donors by getting media buzz, either from impeachment or, in the case of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), from the kind of extraordinary fame few House members ever see.
Just a handful of incumbents were outraised. California Republican David Valadao, who narrowly lost his seat in 2018 to Rep. TJ Cox, who has been dogged by scandal, outraised him by $150,000. Only a few House Democrats were outraised, such as Minnesota Rep. Collin C. Peterson and Iowa Rep. Abby Finkenauer, who hold districts that have gotten redder since 2016.
But in a remarkable irony, the attention paid to impeachment largely helped incumbents who did not need it, without boosting many of the candidates whom Republicans need to succeed if they take back the House. Three of the Democratic Party's successful 2018 red-to-blue candidates cleared $1 million: New York Rep. Max Rose, Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, or California Rep. Katie Porter. John Cummings, a Republican making a hopeless challenge in Ocasio-Cortez's deep blue district, raised more money than all but nine Republicans running to take back swing seats, and several of those candidates are self-funders. It's the flip side of the president's fundraising prowess: When frustrated, the GOP base is not quite sure who to donate too, while Democrats remain better at spreading money around.
"Bernie Sanders sparks a debate over socialism — and Trump is happy to engage," by Sean Sullivan and Toluse Olorunnipa
The president attacks on the senator's turf.
"Major union flips support from Sanders to Biden," by Marc Caputo
A rare switch, with a message about electability.
"Democratic presidential candidates spent heavily in the final quarter of 2019," by Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy
'Tis the season for high burn rates.
Campaigning while impeachment tied up half the field in Washington.
How the Minnesota senator got into politics.
"Donald Trump’s campaign against reality in Iowa," by Olivia Nuzzi
The effort to prevent two guys with no money from making the president look bad in Iowa.
"A scrappy Iowa start-up is the ‘It’ read for political insiders," by Michael M. Grynbaum
The rise of Iowa Starting Line.
DEMS IN DISARRAY
CLIVE, Iowa — Bernie Sanders has never been closer to outright victory in the Iowa caucuses. His supporters are already wondering how the party establishment might try to steal it.
On Friday, as musician Bon Iver headlined the largest Sanders rally of the campaign, anger was focused on the Democratic National Committee, which had crafted new primary rules with the input of Sanders and his allies but which they worried would unravel those rules to stop him. Sanders had mobilized an army of volunteers in Iowa, but would it matter?
Issue one was a change to the party's debate qualifications, which would drop the requirement that candidates attract hundreds of thousands of individual donations to get onstage, starting with February's debate in Nevada. The “donor threshold” was the one thing preventing Mike Bloomberg, who does not accept donations and is not competing for delegates until March, from appearing on a debate stage, and it had been wiped away.
“He doesn’t have to show he has any support amongst the American people,” filmmaker Michael Moore told the crowd of more than 2,500 voters. “He can just buy his way onto the debate stage, and I've got to tell you what is so disgusting about this. I watched the debate in Iowa two weeks ago — the all-white debate. The DNC will not allow Cory Booker on that stage. [It] will not allow Julián Castro on that stage. But they are going to allow Mike Bloomberg on that stage because he’s got a billion … dollars.”
The Sanders campaign, which had previously called the rule change “the definition of a rigged system,” wasn't alone in its anger. Andrew Yang had condemned another new rule, requiring candidates to hit 10 percent in four polls (or 12 percent in Nevada or South Carolina), which could well keep him off the stage. Joe Biden, whose debate position was secure, appeared to be taken aback when a reporter told him what had changed.
“He's not even on the ballot in Nevada,” Biden told a reporter Friday.
Biden is a Democratic Party institutionalist, and many Sanders voters are not. Hours after the DNC rule change was announced, Politico's David Siders reported that “half a dozen” members of the 447-member committee were exchanging text messages about the party's superdelegate rules, reformed in 2018, which prevented party leaders and elected officials from having a say on the nomination unless a convention was deadlocked.
The story made it clear that the rebels were lopsidedly outnumbered, but on social media, word went out that the DNC might well undo its rules. It took on-the-record statements from DNC Chairman Tom Perez and others to cool things down.
“There will be many efforts to stop him,” Sanders's wife, Jane O'Meara Sanders, told supporters in Iowa. “I just read on the way here that some are trying to change the DNC rules so the superdelegates can vote on the first ballot.” When the boos subsided, Sanders expressed hope that “better minds will prevail.”
The response to the superdelegate chatter, which the campaign did not expect to get any further, came out of the context of the debate rule change. The DNC's rules had never threatened Sanders's place onstage, and the campaign itself didn't see how a fight about this could hurt before Iowa. And Bloomberg has yet to qualify for the debate, as polling stands now, even after the rule change.
But what worried supporters was that the party had made a rule and then shifted it. Henry Williams, a 19-year-old Sanders canvasser who had run the quixotic campaign of former senator of Alaska Mike Gravel, recalled what a DNC staffer told them after Gravel, who had hit the party's donor threshold, narrowly missed the cut for the debate because other candidates hit the polling threshold.
“The broader issue is that we can’t change them later on for the benefit of any candidate,” the staffer said, according to a recording kept by Williams, referring to the rules. “That’s kind of a rule number one for us here, and it doesn’t matter who it is. We didn’t change them for Gov. Bullock, and we won’t change them for anybody. That is contrary to what people expect out of the DNC and what we’ve committed to in terms of running a transparent and neutral primary.”
But the argument at that time was whether the DNC should alter a rule about whether polling or donors would break a tie between qualifying candidates. To the DNC, it was clear that the old way of measuring “grass-roots” support, by donations, would get a superior replacement soon: the results from Iowa and New Hampshire.
“Tom Perez said back in November that the rules would change once people start voting,” said Xochitl Hinojosa, a DNC spokeswoman. “No one complained then. These rules reflect where we are in the process, and that’s correct, we will not change the rules to benefit any one candidate. The donor threshold was in place as another mechanism to show support and that has now been replaced with people voting, which is how it should be.”
To Sanders supporters, the idea of an obstacle being removed from a billionaire candidate was nonetheless offensive.
“He donated $350,000 to the party a couple weeks before he started running,” Williams said. “So clearly, all you need to do is get your voice in the right ears.”
Bloomberg's money had largely paid for the party's voter file, which every major candidate bought, too. Only one candidate's supporters took special energy when it seemed like the party was pushing them back.
The latest on the impeachment of President Trump:
Joe Biden, “Right Here.” Biden’s final post finishes with the “West Wing” feeling he’s employed in most ads, with inspiring music and two minutes of clips from his set piece speeches, going back to the announcement of his candidacy in Philadelphia. “Everybody knows who Donald Trump is; we have to show people who we are,” Biden says, a line that reporters have heard countless times but the average caucus-goer might still be unfamiliar with.
Not long after you read this newsletter, the Des Moines Register will release its Iowa poll, an event of nearly religious importance. The conventional wisdom is that Ann Selzer's modeling is never wrong. That's not quite true; Selzer herself joked that she'd been downgraded from the gold standard to "the silver standard" after her final poll of the 2016 GOP caucuses underestimated a surge of evangelical voters who would win the night for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
One slip over many years isn't so bad, though, and campaigns are watching Selzer's poll not just for the leader, but for a sense of who's surging and who could get the second and third "tickets" out of Iowa. It's worth looking at how this poll framed the race in the past few caucuses; the numbers in parentheses show the change between the penultimate polls and the final DMR numbers.
2016 Democratic caucuses
Hillary Clinton: 45% (+3)
Bernie Sanders: 42% (+2)
Martin O'Malley: 3% (-1)
The Clinton-Sanders dynamic had locked into place months earlier, and while Sanders never led the DMR poll, his campaign was encouraged when support for Clinton stayed under 50 percent. The theory was that undecided voters, or voters still with O’Malley, would move toward the challenger, and they did. Clinton edged out Sanders by a few tenths of a percentage point in actual results.
2016 Republican caucuses
Donald Trump: 28 (+6)
Ted Cruz: 23 (-2)
Marco Rubio: 15 (+3)
Ben Carson: 10 (-1)
Rand Paul: 5 (-)
Mike Huckabee: 2% (-1)
Carly Fiorina: 2% (-)
The one real miss in the poll’s recent history was simple to explain: Evangelical voters, who broke heavily for Cruz, turned out at a higher rate than expected, and nervousness about Trump helped move soft conservative supporters of Carson over to Cruz. The poll could never have captured another last-minute development: A CNN report on caucus night, about Carson heading to Florida for a short break, turned into a rumor that Carson would quit the race. Cruz’s better-organized forces capitalized on that to turn Carson voters in caucus rooms, a move that helped him win but permanently alienated Carson. Cruz ended up with 28 percent of the vote, compared with 24 percent for Trump, 23 percent for Rubio and 9 percent for Carson.
2012 Republican caucuses
Mitt Romney: 24% (+8)
Ron Paul: 22% (+4)
Rick Santorum: 15% (+9)
Newt Gingrich: 12% (-13)
Rick Perry: 11% (+5)
Michele Bachman: 7% (-1)
Santorum entered the race as a long shot, with little money and a bare Iowan organization that depended on stitching together religious conservatives who were skeptical of Romney and the twice-divorced Gingrich. He spent more time in the state than any candidate, surging as a popular second choice but never breaking out past the better-funded Gingrich and Perry, the targets of Romney’s negative ads whenever they dared to pass him. His jump in the DMR poll was widely seen as a go-ahead sign, a reason for those conservative voters to finally think he could win. The poll did not capture his eventual win, but that win came out of the surge. He just edged out Romney, both getting about 25 percent support and followed by Paul with 21 percent.
2008 Democratic caucuses
Barack Obama: 32 (+4)
Hillary Clinton: 25 (-)
John Edwards: 24 (+1)
Bill Richardson: 6 (-3)
Joe Biden: 4 (-2)
In “By the People,” a documentary about Obama’s 2008 campaign, a film crew captured the moment when the campaign learned it had moved far ahead in the DMR poll. The Ann Selzer legend grew from there; even the numbers that had Edwards inching up captured how he would eventually pass Clinton, turning the caucuses into her debacle. Obama finished with about 38 percent support, with both Edwards and Clinton about nine points behind.
2008 Republican caucuses
Mike Huckabee 32 (+3)
Mitt Romney 26 (+2)
John McCain 13 (+6)
Fred Thompson 9 (-)
Ron Paul 9 (+2)
The release of this poll was the moment that Romney learned that a strategy of burying Huckabee with negative ads had not worked. It also set up one of the all-time “expectation games” in the caucuses — McCain had basically stopped campaigning in Iowa months earlier, but the tick up in his support was seen, correctly, as evidence of undecided Republicans being ready for another look at a candidate with substantial crossover support. It hardly mattered when McCain would notch fourth place, narrowly, behind Thompson.
There will be Republican caucuses Monday, despite the best efforts of the president's party. Both of his remaining challengers, former Illinois congressman Joe Walsh and former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, are in Iowa right now, holding small meet-and-greets and get-out-the-vote events. And on Sunday, Weld celebrated the endorsement of former Iowa congressman Jim Leach. But neither is expecting much support out of the caucuses.
Joe Biden. He and wife Jill Biden will hold their final Iowa events before caucus day in Dubuque and Des Moines.
Bernie Sanders. He'll hold a rally in Cedar Rapids and a Super Bowl party in Des Moines.
Elizabeth Warren. She'll rally in Indianola (the biggest city in Warren County) as the campaign holds get-out-the-vote events that she could drop in on.
Pete Buttigieg. He'll close out the Iowa campaign with rallies in two places where he's always done well, Coralville (a suburb of Iowa City) and Des Moines.
Amy Klobuchar. She'll rally in Cedar Rapids and Mason City before hosting a Super Bowl party in Des Moines.
Tom Steyer. He'll hold final town halls in Cedar Rapids and Coralville.
Andrew Yang. He's wrapping up his big public events tonight, then spending Sunday at get-out-the-vote events.
Michael Bennet. He's in New Hampshire for town halls in Dover, Concord and Dublin.
Tulsi Gabbard. She'll stop at a Super Bowl watch party and hold a town hall, both in Manchester, N.H.
Deval Patrick. He'll campaign in Exeter, Portsmouth and Somersworth, N.H.
Get the latest updates from the trail from The Post's team here.
The 1988 caucuses are best remembered for who never made it to the finish line. At the start of 1987, national polls found a competitive race between Sen. Gary Hart of Colorado, the runner-up in the last set of primaries, and Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York. Dragging behind, in the low single digits, were Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware.
That set up an Iowa race not unlike 1984, with a “neighbor” (Gephardt) holding the advantage and a pack of weaker liberals trying to become his main alternative. Jesse Jackson was more of a presence than four years earlier, and Dukakis set out to prove his appeal outside New England by aggressively working Iowa. In May, after Hart's exit, Gephardt hit 24 percent in the Des Moines Register's poll, to 13 percent for Jackson, 11 percent for Dukakis, and 6 percent each for Simon and Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt.
Iowa benefited from Dukakis's presence in the race, and the perception that his strength in New Hampshire would require a breakout somewhere else on the map. But Dukakis and Gephardt made sharp contrasts on their own, with the congressman running as a protectionist who would restore American competitiveness after eight years of Reagan's laissez-faire politics, and the governor running on a new economy that didn't need trade wars. Dukakis, Gephardt argued, was “really out of step with where the Democratic Party is going on trade,” and he was.
But they did not have the race to themselves. The 1988 race was the most negative up to that point in caucus history, and negativity both drove candidates (like Biden) from the race while leaving voters cold on the candidates who seemed most negative.
That created an opening for Simon, a bow-tied liberal with no flash and strong appeal in eastern Iowa, where voters were not interested in a rebranded party. “I'm not a neo-anything,” Simon said in his most popular ad. “I'm a Democrat.” By November, he had pushed ahead of the field, getting 24 percent in the DMR poll to 18 percent for Dukakis, 14 percent for Gephardt, and 11 percent for Jackson.
Gephardt was saved by the most unexpected event yet: Hart's return to the race. In December, bitter about how his campaign had ended, Hart said he was still competing for the nomination, and he immediately led in a snap DMR poll. It scrambled the field just as Gephardt was finally going on the air with a sustained, positive campaign.
The mess was a godsend for Gephardt. Suddenly, he was being attacked on several fronts for a position he could happily defend: protectionism. He had spent more time in Iowa than anyone, and as Hart collapsed again, he built his lead. Simon got the endorsement of the Des Moines Register, helping him climb again, but not enough: Gephardt won with 31 percent of the vote, to 27 percent for Simon, 22 percent for Dukakis, 9 percent for Jackson and 6 percent for Babbitt.
... two days until the Iowa caucuses
... three days until the special election in Maryland's 7th congressional district
... six days until the seventh Democratic debate
... 10 days until the New Hampshire primary
... 21 days until the Nevada caucuses
... 28 days until the South Carolina primary
... 31 days until Super Tuesday