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How Cory Booker found a cash lifeline for his flailing presidential campaign

But the campaign is still spending money faster than it can bring it in.

Sen. Cory Booker speaking outside his house in Newark, N.J., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.
Sen. Cory Booker speaking outside his house in Newark, N.J., on Friday, Feb. 1, 2019.Read moreANTHONY PEZZOTTI / Staff Photographer

Cory Booker needed cash.

The New Jersey senator’s presidential campaign was spending money faster than it could raise, there were less than two weeks left in the quarterly fund-raising period, and he was still searching for his first tangible signs of momentum in a crowded Democratic primary field.

We need money now, his campaign said in a desperate plea Sept. 21, or else this run for the White House is over.

Gerald Hathaway saw news reports about the appeal and immediately donated $1,000.

“I want to see his presence continue in the campaign, and I saw a clear appeal that unless he raised a certain amount of money, he would have to suspend his campaign effort, so that is exactly the reason I made the donation,” said Hathaway, an attorney from New York who vacations at the Jersey Shore.

It’s exactly what Booker needed.

After the unusual cry for help — Booker asked supporters to give $1.7 million in 10 days — donors ultimately chipped in $2.16 million, the campaign said.

» READ MORE: Cory Booker hits fund-raising goal, will stay in presidential race

That made it one of the strongest fund-raising periods Booker has had in the race, according to data the campaign recently filed with the Federal Election Commission. His disclosure reveals the details of who gave, how much, and what challenges remain. An analysis of the donations he received in those crucial 10 days shows:

  1. Booker raised more money from large-dollar donors than in any previous 10-day period since he entered the race in February.

  2. More of those big-dollar donors gave to him for the first time.

  3. Small donations poured in at a much faster pace than Booker saw throughout the campaign overall.

  4. More than $1 out of every $5 in small donations received during the entire campaign arrived in that period.

Booker is still struggling to gain ground on his Democratic rivals and his campaign is still bleeding money. At the rate he’s been spending, the strong fund-raising performance bought him about an extra month of campaigning, making the next debate on Nov. 20 another critical moment. His success at hitting the self-imposed target helped frame the latest fund-raising reports as a victory for a campaign in need of one, but Booker still ranked seventh in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, far behind top-tier candidates like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders.

Booker’s campaign didn’t comment for this article. He’s recently taken to more explicitly pitching himself as the candidate for moderate voters seeking an alternative to Biden. But he bluntly describes fund-raising as his greatest hurdle.

“For us, the difference between winning and losing right now really lies, in these 100 days or so to Iowa, is: Can we raise enough money?” Booker said Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington. He said he doesn’t need to match the biggest fund-raisers, but does need enough “to make sure that we can run our plan to win this election, and that’s why I continue to make appeals to folks to help out.”

Donations are critical for campaigns, paying for expenses such as staff in key early-voting states that can help knock on doors and rally support. And they’re also used as criteria to qualify for nationally televised debates. The Democratic National Committee on Friday raised the threshold for the December debate, requiring candidates to collect donations from at least 200,000 people to qualify.

Big money poured in after Booker’s last-ditch fund-raising appeal

Booker received $1,256,292 from big-dollar donors in the 10-day period following his appeal. He raised more in those 10 days than he had in the 36 days prior.

A lot of that money came from new donors.

Large-dollar donors are those who have given a total of $200 or more, and 988 such donors, or more than 9% of Booker’s total large-dollar donors, gave to him for the first time after his plea.

Some of those donors still gave in small amounts -- say, $10 or $20 at a time -- and kept donating, crossing the $200 threshold that requires campaigns to release their names, and at which point they are commonly counted as “large” donors.

Hathaway, the New York attorney, had donated to other Democrats and said his top choices are Sens. Warren and Kamala Harris of California.

“I want him in the mix,” Hathaway said, suggesting Booker might be a solid choice for vice president. “I don’t know if this is his year, but his is a voice I want to be around.”

Among the others who gave to Booker in the key stretch: former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey ($1,000, his first donation to Booker); U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat who has endorsed Booker; and David Bronner, listed as the Cosmic Engagement Officer (CEO) of the Dr. Bronner’s natural soap company. He gave $420 to Booker, who supports legalizing marijuana.

Booker’s staff chipped in, too: Campaign aides in Newark made 25 donations worth a total of $1,634.95 in the crucial 10-day stretch.

Small-dollar donations also rose significantly

While details on small-dollar donations are not reported to the FEC, general numbers can be estimated based on campaign announcements and the totals that are disclosed. Based on the campaign’s statement that it had received a total of $2.159 million from about 46,000 donations, Booker received about $903,700 from 41,200 or so small donations, averaging about $22 each.

That’s a significantly higher number of small-dollar donations than Booker normally receives.

Throughout the campaign, most money Booker raised has come from large-dollar donations, with small-dollar donors giving 28% of his total. In those 10 days, though, small donations made up 42% of his money.

That surge in small-dollar donations is enough to account for around 21% of all small-dollar money Booker has received over the entire eight months of his campaign.

It could be a boon if he can keep those people giving. Big donors quickly hit the maximum donation and are sidelined, but small donors can keep giving, steadily supporting campaigns, and have become vital fuel for top-tier candidates such as Warren and Sanders.

Booker is still burning cash fast

Those 10 days might not be enough to sustain Booker, though, if he continues to stay in the middle of the historically large Democratic pack.

Booker hovers in the low single-digits in the polls, with about 2% of the vote in national polls and slightly higher than that in some polls in early-voting states. Even strong debate performances haven’t helped him gain much.

» READ MORE: New polls: No bump for Cory Booker after strong debate

Meanwhile, in the last six months, Booker has spent money faster than he’s raised it.

The flow of donations from individuals — as opposed to political action committees — hasn’t been strong enough to account for the campaign’s normal operating expenses. Booker has received comparatively little from PACs.

Booker openly acknowledged the concern Wednesday, boasting of his staffing in Iowa and New Hampshire but worrying that better-funded rivals could blow past him.

“We’re going to need to get a lot more fund-raising support because now those people who are raising more than us are trying to hire up at rates that we can’t match right now,” he said Wednesday.

» READ MORE: At Philly rally, people say they like Cory Booker — but aren’t so sure about his chances

If the campaign continues spending money at the rate it did in the third quarter — about $545,000 a week — the strong 10-day haul after the cry for help buys an additional four weeks of spending.

That’s less than a month.

Still, others would welcome a similar fund-raising surge. Just this week, another candidate, Julián Castro, announced he needed $800,000 — within 10 days.