The good news for Jeb fans (are there Jeb fans?) is that that’s more than Cruz raised and more than twice as much as his pal Marco Rubio raised. The bad news is — well, take your pick. For starters, Bush raised far less than novice candidate Ben Carson did ($20 million) and half of what Bernie Sanders did ($26 million) over the same period. (Hillary, the other dynast with endless big-money connections, managed $28 million.) For anyone else that wouldn’t be significant, but for a guy who jumped into the race with a “shock and awe” fundraising strategy designed to intimidate his competitors into dropping out, it’s striking. Bush was also way, way off the pace that his own campaign set last quarter, when it raised nearly the same amount — $11.4 million — in just 16 days after he formally declared his candidacy.
You can complain that that’s apples to oranges insofar as there was bound to be a burst of enthusiasm last quarter among supporters after he made his candidacy official, but the fact remains that he managed to raise just a million dollars more than tea partier Ted Cruz did over the past three months. Jeb’s whole campaign strategy is premised on the idea that he can bury a right-wing challenger in a head-to-head showdown eventually under a ton of ad money and “electability” arguments. The electability arguments are looking increasingly shaky, though — and now, thanks to Cruz’s fundraising strength, so is Jeb’s alleged financial advantage.
In fact, Cruz has more dough in the bank at the moment than Jeb does.
Cash on hand: Cruz: $13.5m Carson: $11.5m Rubio: $11m Bush: $10.3m
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) October 15, 2015
Cruz spent just 51 percent of what he took in last quarter, a lean, mean “burn rate.” Bush’s burn rate was … 86 percent. Even Jeb’s fundraising advantage over his would-be nemesis Rubio last quarter isn’t quite what it seems. Rubio’s quietly picking up plenty of Scott Walker supporters and he’s reportedly poised to earn Sheldon Adelson’s backing as soon as the end of this month. He won’t run out of money. Will Bush?
According to Politico, it’s belt-tightening time:
“The high life has ended,” said one Florida operative familiar with the campaign’s operation. “They’re running a more modest operation in the last two weeks, and the traveling party has definitely shrunk.”…
Conceived as a fundraising juggernaut that would “shock and awe” opponents into oblivion, Bush’s campaign is suddenly struggling to raise hard dollars and increasingly economizing — not because he’s out of money, but to convince nervous donors, who are about to get their first look at his campaign’s burn rate, that he’s not wasting it.
“At a certain point, we want to see a bang for the buck. We’re spending the bucks — and we’re seeing no bang,” a longtime Bush Republican said.
I assume they were hoping for better than an 86 percent burn rate by a guy who’s only been headed downward in the polls. In fact, Politico notes that Jeb’s Super PAC has already spent close to $5 million on TV ads in New Hampshire since the beginning of September, accounting for 60 percent of total political TV advertising in the state over the last three weeks, and his polls since then have gone from nine percent to … 8.7 percent. Between Rubio locking up big-name mega-donors and Bush’s own struggle to get traction, I wonder if the third GOP debate on October 28th is effectively make-or-break for him. If he leaves without making a solid impression, maybe that’s the point where his own donors give up — especially if Rubio performs well onstage by comparison.
Here’s the big question for campaign-finance know-it-alls: Isn’t it the case that, especially for a candidate like Jeb, you can’t glean much about how well his total operation is doing in fundraising from how the campaign itself is faring? What I mean is, since Jeb is relying heavily on wealthy donors instead of grassroots Republicans a la Ben Carson, it stands to reason that most of his well heeled fans long ago maxed out to the campaign by donating the $2,700 they’re allowed to contribute by law. That’s why Jeb’s having more trouble now than he was last quarter — at some point, you run out of millionaires. But that’s not really true for his Super PAC, to which supporters can donate without limits. Is there any indication yet that the money is drying up there too? And even if it is, who cares? They raised such a huge mountain of cash early in the campaign that they can keep rolling for months, even if donors waver.