The DNC rules for entry into the Democratic debates in June and July are like a presidential primary Hunger Games. To earn a place on the stage, candidates must have at least one percent support in selected polls or raise money from 65,000 unique donors in 20 states with 200 donors per state. The DNC indicated the latter option would allow lesser-known candidates to participate in the debates.
With 14 high profile candidates already in the running, a maximum of 20 candidates will be selected to participate in the debates. Rather than have them all on stage at once, 10 candidates will appear over two consecutive nights on NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo.
It’s easy to find out who is ahead in the polls with an internet search. But the number of donors a candidate has is not a matter of public record.
Get our free emails
Mandatory financial disclosures to the FEC for the quarter ending on March 31 aren’t due until April 15. Before that date, information candidates release about their donors is voluntary and many candidates are not offering a full picture of what they’ve raised.
Not so for Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. His campaign told the New York Times he raised $10 million from 360,000 donors during the first week, with $5.9 million coming in the first 24 hours. Sanders, who ran for reelection to the Senate in 2018, already had $9 million cash on hand from previous campaign fundraising. Sanders can use that $9 million to help fuel his presidential run.
Beto O’Rourke outraised Sanders in the first 24 hours of his campaign with $6.1 million in donations from donors representing all 50 states, but unlike Sanders, he has not disclosed how many donors contributed. O’Rourke raised a record $79 million for his 2018 Senate run against Ted Cruz and spent nearly all of it. He ended with $286,531 cash on hand.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has been mum since disclosing that she raised $300,000 on the first day she announced. Warren, who also ran for Senate in 2018, has $11 million cash on hand so perhaps she’s not that worried about fundraising, yet.
California Sen. Kamala Harris raised $1.5 million from 38,000 donors following her January announcement. She sent an email to supporters in February telling them she was falling behind in her fundraising goals but has not updated her numbers publicly. Harris, who was elected to the Senate in 2016, has $1.3 million remaining from that campaign.
Who Will Make the First Cut?
Eight popular shoo-ins are former Vice President Joe Biden, who has not declared his candidacy as of Mar. 19, Sanders, O’Rourke, Harris, Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
An average of polls listed on Real Clear Politics taken between October and March placed those eight candidates having at least one percent support. Biden took the lead in all of the polls cited by RCP and is generally the undeclared frontrunner. However, an Emerson poll conducted over St. Patrick’s Day weekend forecast Sanders winning the Wisconsin primary with 39 percent of the vote over Biden with 24 percent.
A lesser-known candidate who has reached the donor threshold is South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg who reported receiving contributions from 76,025 individuals “around the country” after a much-lauded performance during a CNN town hall. Buttigieg did not release the dollar amount he raised, but according to a recent post on the fundraising website ActBlue, it is less than $500,000.
Another outsider candidate, New York tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, has already met the 65,000 threshold and raised $350,000 in one month thanks to a viral online success. Yang has gained popularity with younger voters while running on a platform of guaranteed income meant to counter increasing automation.
There is little information about Cory Booker’s 2020 fundraising other than articles about a Stanford classmate, attorney Steve Phillips, who has set up a super PAC to support Booker that Phillips claimed would have $10 million in it by Mar. 31. Booker has $4.1 million cash on hand.
Jay Inslee, governor of Washington state, who has made combating climate change his top priority, has raised $1 million from all 50 states but also did not disclose the number of donors.
Other big fundraisers include Klobuchar who raised $1 million in 48 hours but did not release the number of donors. She ran for reelection in 2018 and has $3.9 million cash left over from that race.
New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand isn’t polling well and implies in fundraising emails she hasn’t yet reached 65,000 donors, but she has $10.3 million in leftover cash from 2018 to play with.
The first candidate to enter the race in July of 2017 still has not received 65,000 donations. To boost his numbers, former Maryland congressman John Delaney promises to give $2 to charity for every donor who contributes to his campaign. Delaney selected 11 charities that donors can designate to receive their $2.
The DNC did not return an email asking which candidates had reached the 65,000 donor threshold.