Like a movie ticket stub, like a hotel key at a Las Vegas resort, the latest wave of candidate FEC filings comes from a world that no longer exists. From Jan. 1 to March 30, the period covered in the new report, candidates had about two and a half months to raise money before the pandemic shut much of the economy down.
The new numbers tell us where the campaign for the presidency and Congress was going, but not necessarily what will happen next. The new numbers for House and Senate races cover the entire period, while new filings from presidential candidates and party committees cover only the month of March. Here are the biggest lessons we've learned from some of the most exciting paperwork in politics.
As the Democratic primary ended, Biden finally outraised Sanders. The presumptive Democratic nominee for president was trailing his top rivals in every fundraising period of the campaign, until Super Tuesday. Through March, a period that began with Biden's South Carolina victory and ended with big primaries being delayed, Biden raised $46.7 million. That was more than half as much as he'd raised for the entire period from his campaign launch through the end of February.
It was also more than Bernie Sanders raised, as Biden's wins showed the limits of Sanders's enormous campaign infrastructure. Sanders raised a bit less than $33 million, still phenomenal for a candidate whose chances essentially vanished after March 3. Post-Super Tuesday, Sanders won just three contests: the North Dakota caucuses, Democrats Abroad and the Northern Mariana Islands. But his fundraising dropped just 27 percent from February, while Biden's surged by 250 percent.
Biden ran well ahead of Hillary Clinton's fundraising from the same period four years ago — just $29.5 million, the one time she was outraised by Sanders. Still, that Sanders was able to drum up so much as his campaign bottomed out is a testament to the small-dollar machine he built. Sanders did not issue a single fundraising request after March 17, when defeats in Arizona, Florida and Illinois ended his threat to Biden.
Democrats are ahead in Senate fundraising. There will be 33 Senate elections in November, with both parties most focused on nine states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Montana and North Carolina. In just two of those states, Iowa and Michigan, Republicans have outraised the likely Democratic nominee. In the rest, Democrats had quickly become competitive with, or actually outpaced, incumbent Republicans.
Michigan, though seen as a tougher challenge for Republicans than Alabama, stands out on this list. First-term Sen. Gary Peters, who raised just $10 million for his 2014 race, has raised $15.7 million for this one. But in the final quarter of 2019 and the first quarter of 2020, he was outraised by John James, a black veteran and businessman who has been repeatedly touted by the president and national Republicans. (Tellingly, the president himself did not campaign with James in his 2018 Senate race, though the vice president did.)
James has cracked a code, exciting big national donors and generating interest with grass-roots activists who have built a small-dollar fundraising base. That got him $4.8 million over three months, compared with $4 million for Peters. The Republican dilemma is that so few of their candidates have figured out how to copy this — including many incumbents. James raised more than Republican senators in Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina, which partly explains why the chamber is in play.
The big new entry on the board is Montana, where Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock opted to run after months of pressure from his party. Bullock raised $3.3 million despite launching his campaign days before the pandemic began closing down most in-person activity; Sen. Steve Daines, who is personally wealthy, raised $1.3 million. In North Carolina, former state senator Cal Cunningham raised $4.4 million in the same period, when he won a primary despite an ad campaign, from Republicans, that boosted one of his rivals. His opponent, Sen. Thom Tillis, raised $1.3 million. Neither Cunningham nor Bullock had a record or approach designed to fire up ideological donors, but they found a way to the Democratic money funnel that opened after 2016.
Democrats are ahead in House fundraising, too. The Democrats' majority is, on paper, the sort of thing that could be lost in 2020. Thirty incumbents are in Trump-friendly districts, and several more won their 2018 elections with 1 percent of the vote. Republicans could well go into November with two more seats than they ended 2018 with: Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey has switched parties, and veteran Mike Garcia has a decent shot in the upcoming special election for California's 25th district.
But the combination of new incumbency and old grass-roots donor appeal has been helping Democrats build cash leads almost everywhere. Some of their best-known freshmen, such as Rep. Katie Porter of California and Rep. Haley Stevens of Michigan, have piled up funds while drawing weak opponents; Porter has 30 times as much money as the Republican she'll face in November, while Stevens has 157 times as much as the Trump campaign veteran who is challenging her.
While there are 30 Democrats in districts carried by Trump in 2016, just one of them — Rep. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota — has been outraised by challengers. The 42 Democrats who flipped districts in 2020 raised about three times as much as their Republican opponents.
There were bright spots for Republicans, district by district and nationally. Their WinRed fundraising portal announced that it had moved $129 million from January through March, a fast start for an effort that started later than many Republicans liked. Star recruits such as Texas's Wesley Hunt, who is challenging first-term Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, kept pace with Democratic incumbents. (The Congressional Leadership Fund, an early booster of Hunt, has reserved $3 million in ads there.) But Democratic donors are still more active than Republicans in these down-ballot races. In March, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $14.3 million, $2.8 million more than its Republican counterpart; the Democrats' Senate campaign committee outraised the GOP's committee by $1.9 million.
Long-shot right-wing challenges are raising more than similar left-wing challenges. New York's 14th District is not the sort of place where Republicans usually spend their money. It covers parts of the Bronx and Queens, it gave Hillary Clinton 78 percent of the vote, and the local GOP is a non-factor in municipal races. But the congresswoman from New York's 14th District is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That has helped the district's Republican candidates raise a combined $2.9 million, while Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a former TV host running as a pro-business Democrat, has raised $1.1 million. All of it against a Democrat with $3.5 million in the bank.
The flood of money into Ocasio-Cortez's district is an example of how active Republican donors still are more enticed by high-profile candidacies than unglamorous but promising candidacies. Ocasio-Cortez's top challenger, John C. Cummings, has raised more than Jason Lewis, the GOP's U.S. Senate candidate in Minnesota — $1.7 million, compared with $1.3 million. Challenging Ocasio-Cortez is a golden ticket to TV and online name recognition. Challenging Rep. Antonio Delgado, who flipped a Trump-friendly district north of the city, is not. Yet Delgado's opponents have raised a combined $300,000, less than 10 percent of the freshman Democrat's haul so far.
It's the same in Minnesota, where the leading Republican challenger to Rep. Ilhan Omar has raised $1.1 million. That's twice as much as the GOP candidate in Iowa's 2nd District, an open seat just a few hours away from Minneapolis, has raised. Iowa's 2nd District backed Trump by four points; Omar's district backed Clinton by 55 points. While the four members of the “squad” have starred in Republican messaging, none is vulnerable in November, and only Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan has a tough primary, largely because she is one of two nonblack Democrats representing a majority-black seat.
Two Senate candidates with long odds, Kentucky's Amy McGrath and South Carolina's Jaime Harrison, have outraised Republican incumbents despite the party's focus on other states. But there's not the same evidence of Democratic donors investing in pure long shots. In Maine, Republicans have crossed their fingers that Betsy Sweet, a liberal activist endorsed by some national left-wing groups, can bring down state House Speaker Sara Gideon to take on Sen. Susan Collins. But Sweet has struggled to raise money and now has $37,494 on hand compared with $4.7 million for Gideon. In Iowa, Republicans have actually bought billboards to promote Kimberly Graham, a liberal they hope can weaken party favorite Theresa Greenfield in her bid to compete against Sen. Joni Ernst. Graham has just $41,907 on hand, 9 percent as much as Greenfield, and less than two other lesser-known candidates who haven't appealed to national liberal donors.
Mike Bloomberg spent a billion dollars (and bailed out the DNC). The multibillionaire's short-lived campaign was always proud of its spending, telling reporters just how fast it had hired 1,000 people and how big its ad buys were. But we did not know until yesterday just how much Bloomberg spent before winding down: $1,033,391,453.32. That's about $10 million for every day Bloomberg was in the race, and around $18 million for each delegate he won before suspending his campaign. He may never be president, but he'll always have American Samoa.
Republicans still blame Bloomberg's 2018 investments, from a PAC that sprinkled $100 million in ads across the country, for making the difference in close House races. Bloomberg, angering former employees, has already opted against continuing his campaign as an independent, pro-Biden organization. Instead, he transferred $18 million to the DNC, which raised $33 million. His money helped the beleaguered committee surpass the RNC (which raised $24 million) for the first time in any quarter since 2016.
The RNC remains on stronger footing than its Democratic counterpart. It has $77.1 million on hand and no debt after spending tens of millions of dollars on technology and volunteer training. The DNC has just $35.8 million on hand and may be destined to run behind the RNC for the rest of this cycle. The X-factor, not visible in these reports, is how the pandemic and recession conditions affect donations. We won't know that for a month.
This originally said Bloomberg spent about $1 million for each day he was in the race; the correct figure is $10 million a day. It has been corrected.
The aftermath of an election that forced some voters outside.
“ 'They should have done something': Broad failures fueled Wisconsin's absentee ballot crisis, investigation shows,” by Daphne Chen, Catharina Felke, Elizabeth Mulvey and Stephen Stirling
Worries about the technical snafus that left some ballots undelivered.
“Biden raised $46.7 million in March, his best fundraising month to date,” by Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy
How a once-struggling campaign beat even Clinton-Sanders money numbers.
The varied ways that states are preparing to handle pandemic elections.
“Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is a rising star for Democrats and a target for Republicans,” by Matt Viser and Josh Dawsey
Inside the effort to shape opinions of a potential vice president.
The top-line financing numbers tell us plenty, but the budget lines and donor names help fill out the story of who's funding the 2020 campaign. Among the highlights:
Robert Mercer. The reclusive megadonor, who gave heavily to elect Donald Trump in 2016, got off the train at the start of his presidency. He's getting back on board, donating $355,200 to Trump Victory, the collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Tom Steyer. Way back in June 2019, when the idea of a self-funding billionaire was new to the Democratic primary, an adviser to Steyer suggested that he would spend $100 million of his own money to win. That was an understatement. Steyer eventually spent $315.7 million, a significant chunk of his fortune, on a campaign that won no delegates and wrapped up before Super Tuesday. He raised $3.7 million from individual donors, a process he engaged in to get access to DNC-sponsored debates.
Carole Baskin. The woman made famous by Netflix's “Tiger King” documentary donated $1,000 to Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, whose term is not over until the end of 2022 and who has said he will not actually seek reelection.
We also started to learn what the impact was on campaigns when in-person events ground to a halt. The Biden campaign claimed to have raised $33 million in the month's first half, a period that included donation surges after the South Carolina primary and Super Tuesday. That means he raised just around $14 million in the last weeks of March, a steep falloff for a candidate who was using that period to lock up the nomination. According to Shane Goldmacher, who focused on donations through ActBlue, Biden raised $27.3 million online in the first half of March and $8.5 million in the second half, an even steeper drop.
The Lincoln Project, “Ready.” A group of disaffected Republicans who want to beat President Trump, the Project is running the sort of ad that the pro-Biden super PAC Unite the Country ran in 2019: all character, no intense focus on issues. “Loss and tragedy forged in him a strength and character needs more than ever,” a narrator says. The one sign that this is different from the usual pro-Biden spot is the admission that “not everyone will agree” with everything a President Biden does.
Do you support lifting restrictions on vote-by-mail? (NBC News/WSJ, 900 registered voters)
In this election
In every election
Despite a few weeks of polarization, with the president warning that the absentee voting system he used this year is susceptible to fraud, this poll finds independents joining a supermajority of Democrats in endorsing mail voting through the pandemic. By a still-sizable 20-point margin, most voters are comfortable with allowing vote-by-mail without the restrictions being challenged right now in some states, such as requiring excuses for not showing up in person for voters under 65.
Do you approve of how this public official is handling the pandemic? (Detroit News, 600 Michigan adults)
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
President Donald Trump
The first poll of Michigan conducted since the conservative backlash to Whitmer's orders found the governor in strong political shape, albeit less strong than governors who have not been at the center of protests. By a 48-point margin, Republicans disapprove of the job Whitmer has done. She's still well above water, as Democrats back her by 81 points and independents do so by 21 points. Still, more than a quarter of voters polled say that they are personally worried about providing for themselves and their families, underscoring the risks if the shutdowns drag beyond Whitmer's initial April time frame.
Is this public official doing a good or bad job responding to COVID-19? (Monmouth, 784 New Jersey adults)
Gov. Phil Murphy
President Donald Trump
Murphy, elected in 2017, has not faced the same sort of rebukes as other governors ordering crackdowns. He got some pushback after social distancing orders led to a smallish Jewish religious ceremony being broken up; Murphy, in turn, told a Fox News interviewer that he was not necessarily thinking of the Bill of Rights when he started limiting citizens' movement. The impact on his popularity is hard to see: Murphy has huge approval ratings from every New Jersey demographic, while the president's support matches the 41 percent of the vote he won in the state four years ago.
In the states
Under the old primary schedule, abandoned after the pandemic began, New York was set to hold its presidential primary April 28. Under the new schedule, the state will hold all federal primaries, for the presidency and for House districts, June 23.
But as Daniel Marans reported this week, the presidential primary could be scrapped, and all of New York's delegates assigned to Joe Biden, if the state makes use of new powers to remove defunct candidacies from the ballot. A meeting tomorrow will determine whether the board of elections does so or whether an objection leaves Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on the ballot.
“It’s not very controversial that Bernie Sanders has suspended his campaign,” BOE co-chair Douglas Kellner told Marans. “I anticipate that we will be removing him.”
At issue is Sanders's decision to end his quest for the nomination while encouraging supporters to vote for him and increase his share of delegates. Other campaigns have plowed ahead to win delegates after the primary was effectively over, as Ron Paul did in his 2008 and 2012 Republican campaigns. It's unusual for a campaign to seek delegates after suspending, something Sanders did as part of his unique position: He did not want to slow down Biden's campaign any further but wanted to have influence over the platform.
With Sanders conceding the coming 24 contests, canceling New York's primary would have no effect on the outcome. Biden is on track to clinch the nomination a few weeks before June 23, thanks to the pileup of early June primaries. What cancellation could do, and has already started to do, is stoke anger of the kind Sanders was trying to smother: at the Democratic Party itself, for preventing some die-hard Sanders voters from casting a ballot for him.
President Trump's campaign had nothing much to do in the first part of this week, while the president continued making pandemic-related decisions that could ricochet in the election, such as an evolving plan to halt legal immigration. (As of this writing, the president is set to suggest a pause on green cards, but not guest workers.)
Joe Biden's campaign executed an idea it had bandied about for weeks: a “virtual rope line,” which put him in touch with supporters who had personal or lighthearted questions. Biden also picked up the endorsement of the United Auto Workers, who argued that Biden's role experience from the auto bailout “will be instrumental as the industry experiences massive changes in technology and jobs in auto and other UAW sectors."
Dems in disarray
Nancy Pelosi likes chocolate. This is not news to the Capitol Hill media, which has heard Pelosi extol the greatness of Baltimore’s chocolatiers. It was news, sort of, to James Corden, the late-night host who concluded his April 14 interview with Pelosi with a review of her ice cream stash, a cornucopia of Jeni’s cartons in one of her expensive freezers.
“We just got it restocked, the ice cream, for Easter Sunday,” Pelosi explained.
It took six days for that clip to be used in a Trump campaign video, a straightforward production that contrasted stories of economic pain during the pandemic with Pelosi talking about ice cream. The ad shoved this clip into the political conversation, but Pelosi had already taken fire from the online left for appearing tone-deaf, as Republicans were attacking congressional Democrats for not quickly moving to pass an aid package for small businesses. The House is not scheduled to return to work until early May, though it can move legislation without full debate and votes, as it is expected to this week.
Pelosi, the star of countless Republican ads over the past 10 years, faces no real challenge from House Democrats, and her party remains ahead in the polls. But with so much attention focused on the White House, the backlash toward how Pelosi's party is handling the recovery debate, and the current aid package, has been muted.
That could change, and quickly. Pelosi, citing tradition, has ruled out the sort of remote voting and debating that some courts and local legislators have embraced since the pandemic began. Republicans have placed Pelosi's Corden interview into their ongoing argument — that Democrats are not negotiating a better bill, but trying to hurt the president. The left, meanwhile, is pressuring Pelosi to make more demands, frustrated that big asks like funding for vote-by-mail programs were left out of the recovery bill that was passed in March.
Some of those concerns were aired Monday, when the Working Families Party brought five left-wing Democratic members of Congress together to talk strategy. Over more than an hour, all of them described why much more was needed to Trump-proof the recovery packages, giving aid directly to poor Americans affected by the virus and the economic shutdown. But only one of the members, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, said that she was ready to oppose an insufficient spending bill.
“We have not seen the final text of this bill. But what I can say is that if it matches up with what has been reported, I will not support this bill, personally,” Ocasio-Cortez said during the call. “Incrementalism is not helpful in this moment. It's not helpful for people to say, oh, well, we got something, so we might as well support it.”
The Trump campaign is not simply trying to persuade voters to support the president. It's also trying to convince left-wing voters that the election of Joe Biden simply wouldn't be worth it to them. Pelosi’s strategy, which has gotten some concessions on funding but far less than the left was demanding, could be exploited to made some in the party’s base more frustrated in its leadership — and think about how much effort they want to spend on this election.
… seven days until Ohio tries to finish its primary
… 118 days until the Democratic National Convention
… 125 days until the Republican National Convention
… 195 days until the general election