Pete Buttigieg still narrowly leads the count in the Iowa caucus, but Bernie Sanders hit the jackpot in January. Tapping into his small-donor base and expanding it, Sanders raised as much money as his closest competitors raised in a quarter, pulling in $25 million to kick off the Democratic primaries. Team Sanders will use a large chunk of that to get TV viewers feeling the Bern over the next month:
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont raised $25 million in January, his campaign said Thursday, a staggering sum that marks his highest monthly total since entering the race a year ago.
The haul surpassed his totals from the first and second quarters of 2019 combined, and nearly matched his third quarter total of $25.3 million. He led the Democratic primary field with $34.5 million in contributions over the final three months of the year.
Sanders’ campaign spent $50 million during the final quarter of 2019, exceeding its intake, but still began January with $18.2 million in cash-on-hand. His January fundraising figures underscore the enduring power of his grassroots donor base, which will allow him to compete — and spend big — deep into what could be a long and expensive primary contest.
Sanders has built himself a rather handy ATM machine with his donor base, a point Andrew Malcolm made on my show on Tuesday, ahead of these results. He has hundreds of thousands of donors who have made mainly small-ish contributions, which means most of them are still far from hitting the campaign-finance limits. That allows Bernie to keep asking for more contributions from the same people, maintaining a steady cash flow on a broad scale. It doesn’t take much when one has 650,000 contributors; the average contribution in January was just under $19.
At the same time, Sanders is expanding that scale as well. A third of his January contributors, over 219,000, gave to the campaign for the first time. That’s a sign that Sanders has built up momentum in the race as he heads back close to his home turf in New Hampshire. Mainstream Democrats see that momentum as a “five-alarm fire,” and it’s not difficult at all to see why:
NEW: @BernieSanders raised $25m in January, according to his campaign
That *1-month* total is more than any of Biden/Buttigieg/Warren's '19 *quarters*
1.3m contributions from 648k donors — 219k of which are new
Sanders is now making a $5.5m ad buy across 10 Super Tues. states
— Adam Kelsey (@adamkelsey) February 6, 2020
The panic has risen since Donald Trump’s pointed attack on socialism in the State of the Union address on Tuesday. That gave Democrats and progressives a clear look at what a general election would look like with Sanders at the top of the ticket, and just how it would play with voters up and down the ticket. Jill Lawrence writes today that Democrats should be serious about stopping Bernie before he turns the whole party into socialists — at least in voters’ minds:
I will be less encouraged if Sanders wins Iowa outright, claims a great victory and sails to another one next week in the New Hampshire primary. If that happens, Democrats embarking on an existential general election campaign will be at risk of nominating a 78-year-old “democratic socialist” who recently had a heart attack.
The campaign against socialism and Sanders is in full swing already. In the shorthand language of attack politics, all Democrats are socialists, and not democratic ones, either. As President Donald Trump tweeted the other night, “This November, we are going to defeat the Radical Socialist Democrats and win the Great State of Iowa in a Historic Landslide!” Now multiply that by an army, and the TV exposure of a State of the Union address in which he vowed, “We will never let socialism destroy American health care!”
Why hand Trump a general election opponent who is an actual socialist? Unless, of course, you want to bolster Trump’s credibility and undermine Democrats’ claims to believe in capitalism? In other words, unless you want to lose.
Lawrence suggests that other candidates narrow the field in a hurry to get the choice down to three or four people who could consolidate the non-Bernie vote. It might be too late for that, and the people she cites aren’t getting many votes to consolidate anyway:
I am sorry to say it, but it’s time to name names. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and entrepreneurs Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang should get out.
None of them are really in it. To consolidate the non-Bernie, non-Socialist vote, the field would have to narrow further than the four who might get some delegates in Iowa — Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Buttigieg. In fact, it would probably have to narrow all the way down to a Biden-Sanders race (or a Buttigieg-Sanders race) to finally contain Sanders’ momentum at this point.
Right now, the Democrats’ biggest problem isn’t Sanders. It’s the fact that they can’t find a candidate who can credibly put together an agenda that appeals to voters outside their Twitter/Academia/media bubble, which leaves them with no other real option than an old socialist crank. It’s not that they have too many candidates — it’s that they don’t have any at all.