After the CNN debate, time to thin the herd dramatically


I previously said that the Democratic candidates had until Labor Day to break out, and if it hadn’t happened for them by then, it ain’t gonna happen, time to get out. But the Democratic electorate is sorting out the two dozen or so candidates at a faster pace, and it may be possible to reduce this field down to just six candidates after the CNN debates this month (many of them will nevertheless try to hang on to qualify for the September debate). The time for fun and games is over people, it’s time to get down to the serious business of picking a nominee from among serious candidates.

CNN has announced its debate lineup for July 30 – 31.

CNN Debate

The Washington Post usefully reports, Five takeaways: How the 2020 presidential candidates are raising and spending their money:

The ways candidates are raising and spending money at this stage in the presidential primary can tell us a lot about how their campaigns are shaping up.

The second-quarter financial reports released Monday night provide a glimpse into how the sprawling Democratic field is shaking out, signaling the campaigns’ priorities and needs as they work to stand out from the rest.

We dug through the new Federal Election Commission reports of 22 Democratic candidates who reported figures, as well as President Trump and the two committees raising money for his reelection and for the Republican Party.

The reports covered money raised and spent from April 1 through June 30, as the Democratic field expanded and Democrats competed in their first debate, and as Trump officially launched his 2020 reelection bid. Here are five takeaways:

1. There’s a clear gap between the top raisers and the rest.

Five Democratic candidates each raised more than $10 million in the second quarter: South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg ($24.9 million); former vice president Joe Biden ($22 million); Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts ($19.2 million); Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont ($18 million); and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California ($11.8 million).

Then, there was a sharp drop. After Harris, the next top raiser was Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, who brought in $4.6 million — roughly one-third of Harris’s haul. The rest of the 16 candidates each raised less than $4 million toward their presidential campaigns.

Also notable was how much money was spent by the candidates who raised the least — suggesting they were pouring money into trying to jump-start campaigns.

Twelve Democratic candidates spent more than 80 percent of the money they raised in the second quarter. The vast majority of them registered at 1 percent or less in the latest national polls.

As candidates enter the difficult fundraising months of July and August with limited funds, they will need to be more strategic — and frugal — about where they spend their money as the stakes get higher.

2. Buttigieg racked up money. O’Rourke’s fundraising fell flat.

Most of the candidates with the biggest second-quarter totals were those at the top of the national polls. The exception: Buttigieg.

Buttigieg posted the biggest haul, capturing the attention of certain donors even though he has not yet seen a significant bump in polling. A Washington Post-ABC News Poll showed Buttigieg is tied with former housing secretary Julián Castro at 4 percent.

Here is FiveThirtyEight’s national polling data for July:

Screen Shot 2019-07-19 at 7.38.07 AM

The polling clarifies that there is a top tier of four candidates in double-digit polling — Biden, Sanders, Warren and Harris — and three marginal polling candidates who potentially could still break out into double digits with a good debate performance — Buttigieg, Booker and O’Rourke. One of these marginal polling candidates is going to be voted off the island after the CNN debate based upon their performance. Everyone else polling at 2% or below needs to seriously consider getting out of the race after the CNN debate. It’s game over.

Buttigieg kept his expenses low, spending one-third of what he raised in the second quarter. He entered July with $22.7 million — the second-highest amount behind Sanders’s $27 million (which included $7 million in transfers from other accounts).

Some donors have said they want to invest in Buttigieg’s continued presence in the primary and help raise his national profile, even though they may not ultimately support him as the nominee to challenge Trump in 2020.

Meanwhile, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign raised $3.7 million in three months — far less than the roughly $6 million that his campaign said it drew on the first day of his candidacy.

The expectations for O’Rourke were high when he entered the 2020 race, having raised $80 million for his unsuccessful Senate race in Texas. But so far, his campaign has struggled to gain steam in the crowded primary.

O’Rourke burned through $5.2 million in the second quarter — spending at a faster clip than he raised — and had $5.2 million going into July.

3. Warren and Sanders spent heavily on building up their staff.

Warren and Sanders both spent heavily on staffing and other expenses related to payroll.

Warren spent $3.8 million — some 36 percent of second-quarter spending — on staffing expenses as she continued to build an expansive ground operation in the early states. Her campaign said it has amassed a staff of at least 300, with 60 percent based in the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Sanders spent $4.3 million — 31 percent of second-quarter spending — on staffing.

The Post’s point 4 is about the Trump campaign, not relevant here.

5. Campaigns are investing in upping their digital game.

As candidates work to generate momentum and break out of the pack, they are investing in improving their digital game, including fundraising, advertising and renting email lists.

Many Democratic candidates invested heavily on digital, including Harris, who spent 23 percent of her second-quarter expenses on various digital services, such as advertising and consulting.

A smart and expansive digital strategy can prove to be a worthwhile investment once the candidate finds the right viral moment to generate attention and money. Thanks in part to Harris’s digital presence, she received a flurry of donations after a standout performance at the Democratic debate at the end of June.

Biden spent $3.4 million on digital advertising, making up nearly one-third of his total spending in the second quarter.

Other candidates, including Castro and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also spent big on digital. Digital expenses made up 43 percent of the total second-quarter spending for Castro, and 31 percent for Inslee.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg spent just over $500,000 — or 6 percent — of his second-quarter money on digital, suggesting the fundraising spike Buttigieg saw was buoyed by media coverage, in-person donor meetings and viral moments online.

Still, federal filings only capture a portion of total digital spending by campaigns, as they outsource services to consulting firms or hire staff in-house to provide such services.

By the time of the third Democratic primary debate in September, the field very well could be refined down to former vice president Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and possibly Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. This will allow more time for the candidates to seriously discuss their views, and we can end this ridiculous cattle call primary where candidates are only given a minute or two to answer.


  1. PS I think your analysis of the September lineup is pretty good, although I don’t think Booker will last.

  2. Sanders “…spent heavily on staffing and other expenses related to payroll.” but not enough to pay some of his staffers above $15 per hour. Amazing! You couldn’t make stuff like this up.

    • You do understand that a political campaign is not a business, right?

      Sanders is not making a profit off by underpaying people.

      I have a feeling that you do not understand the difference. SMH.

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