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2020 Democrats Are Burning Cash Faster Than They Can Raise It

Some top-tier candidates remain strong in fundraising. Others struggle to garner enough support to stay in the game.

Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney prepares for television interviews ahead of the Democratic presidential debate on July 30, 2019, in Detroit, Michigan.

As the Democratic presidential field narrows, some of the top-tier candidates remain strong in fundraising while others struggle to garner enough support to stay in the game, Tuesday’s quarterly filings show.

Having sworn off high-dollar fundraisers, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the two frontrunners popular among grassroots donors and ranking near the top of all polls, respectively brought in $27.6 million and $24.5 million during the third quarter. Sanders now tops all his Democratic opponents with $33.7 million on hand, with Warren ranking second with $25.7 million.

The pair is followed by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who raised $18.9 million in the past three months and has $23.4 million on hand. The top-tier fundraiser is the most popular among high-paying jobs such as CEOs, consultants and physicians, OpenSecrets previously reported.

Tom Steyer, who jumped in the race in July and made his debut on Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, injected $47.6 million of his own money into his campaign in three months, surpassing the $40.8 million President Donald Trump raised from donors during the same period. The billionaire’s self-funded campaign received criticism from his opponent, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who accused Steyer of buying his way onto the debate stage.

Others are lagging in fundraising efforts — but spending heavily nonetheless.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who had led national and Iowa polls until being overtaken by Warren earlier this month, raised $15.3 million in the past three months, significantly less than Sanders or Warren. The campaign spent $17.2 million during the same period.

Trump, who was accused of soliciting foreign help from Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, launched a $10 million ad blitz against the former vice president. The Biden campaign countered the attacks with $6 million of TV ad buys.

Like Biden, most 2020 Democrats spent more than they raised during the third quarter, and some have little cash left on hand. The heavy spending comes less than four months before the Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses — the kickoff event to the primary nomination season.

Sanders, who is recovering from a recent heart attack, won the backing of three progressive congresswomen — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). The 78-year-old Vermont senator received an official endorsement from Omar on Tuesday and will appear with Ocasio-Cortez at a Saturday New York rally, where the congresswoman will announce her support for Sanders.

Appealing to grassroots fundraisers, Sanders hauled in a total $43 million from small donors — by far the most among his peers — which accounts for almost 60 percent of his campaign funds. The campaign spent $21.2 million during the third quarter, including roughly $2 million on Facebook ads. Sanders’ campaign also resumed a previously held-off $1.3 million TV ad buy in Iowa earlier this month.

Whose campaign relies the most on small donors?

Warren has received $31.9 million from small-dollar donors, which accounts for 53.2 percent of her total. The now-frontrunner spent $18.6 million in the past three months, including $1.7 million on Facebook ad buys.

Buttigieg raked in less money this quarter than the near $25 million he brought in between April and June, exceeding all other candidates’ quarterly fundraising at the time. His campaign spent almost all it raised within the past three months, but still ended the quarter with more cash on hand than before.

Steyer’s campaign, by far the largest spender among all Democratic candidates, spent $47 million but still remained at a single-digit low point in polling results. The campaign announced a $100 million budget in July to advance Steyer’s presidential bid, and has spent more than $9 million in digital ad buys by far. He has spent almost $26 million on TV ads since entering the race, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Others are burning money faster than they can raise it, chipping away at what’s left in the bank. Former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), who entered the third quarter with $7.4 million in the bank, ended September with only $548,601 on hand and more than $10 million in debt mostly to himself. Delaney has loaned his campaign $24.4 million, but has paid himself back $15 million.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who attracted $4.8 million in contributions during the third quarter, spent $7.8 million. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) raised $4.4 million but burned $6.3 million over the three months. Some candidates, such as former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) and Marianne Williamson, have less than $1 million left in the bank.

Some candidates invested hundreds of thousands flying in private jets. The Washington Post reported that Biden paid private jet service company EJCR LLC $924,000 during the third quarter, even as he lost his edge in polls. Buttigieg also paid Advanced Aviation, a private jet rental company, nearly $288,000 during the same period.

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