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  • Feldman Strategies

The 2020 Democratic Field Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller

By Eric Lutz 7/16/19

With such a large Democratic primary field, all competing for the same resources, it was only a matter of time before candidates started running out of money. New financial disclosures reveal just that: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg are chugging along, while the remainder of the jam-packed field appears to be struggling to fundraise, or spending more than they’re bringing in, suggesting the end may be nigh.

As Politico reports, eleven campaigns—close to half the field—spent more than they raised in the second quarter of the year, a number that includes John Delaney, the former congressman who launched his campaign close to two years ago; Beto O’Rourke, who’s so far failed to capture the energy of his 2018 face-off with Ted Cruz; and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar,all of whom have struggled to break free from the pack. Even those not in the red are feeling the pinch. Julian Castro had a breakout performance in the first round of Democratic debates last month, but is nevertheless spending more than 80 percent of the money he’s taking in, leaving his campaign in dire straits. “Some of these candidates need a miracle,” Mathew Littman, a Democratic strategist and former Biden speechwriter who now supports Harris, told Politico. “It’s like if you’re a baseball team and you’re 15 games behind in mid-July, the odds are that you’re not making it to the playoffs.”

The “playoffs,” in this case, would be the first contests of the Democratic primary in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, which are still half a year away. On one hand, that means struggling candidates still have time to right the ship. On the other, they’ll have to maintain campaigns that are already short on resources, a problem that’s likely to worsen as frontrunners become entrenched. As the New York Times noted Tuesday, the best-funded candidates raked in a combined $96 million last quarter—about three-quarters of the money brought in by the entire field—and are significantly outspending their less-monied counterparts. Resources, in other words, are becoming increasingly concentrated at the top. “This is the doomsday scenario for a lot of campaigns, where they’re grasping for air to keep their campaigns alive and to live another day,” Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman told Politico. “You can’t build an operation that turns enthusiasm into votes without having resources to do it.”

Of course, the winnowing was bound to happen sooner or later. As my colleague Chris Smith reported back in February, the field was primed for a life-or-death battle for limited cash and staff. “They are not all going to be able to raise enough money to get from here to Iowa,” Mark Longabaugh, a top Sanders strategist in 2016, told Smith. “By the time we get to the end of this year, you’re going to know the three or four who have a legitimate shot at the nomination.” There’s still time for some jockeying— the second round of debates is set for later this month, and bubble candidates are scrambling to qualify for the third debates in September. But several campaigns seem doomed. Eric Swalwell, the California congressman, has already dropped his bid, and a number of others who have failed to ascend from anonymity are circling the drain. For months, the story has been the growing 2020 field. In the coming months, the story is likely to be that field’s shrinking.


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