When it comes to Pennsylvania, Joe Biden remains the make-it-rain king.
The former vice president has raised more money in the state than any other Democratic candidate for president, with more than one in five dollars given by Pennsylvania donors going to his campaign. But Bernie Sanders is right behind him — and with a totally different path to the top. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg remain competitive.
The four top-tier Democratic candidates dominated Pennsylvania fund-raising last year, according to an Inquirer analysis of federal campaign-finance records. Together, they received $9.9 million from donors in the critical swing state, more than two-thirds of the almost $14.4 million in total that Pennsylvanians gave to the sprawling Democratic field in 2019:
Biden, the Scranton native whose campaign is headquartered in Philadelphia, led the pack with $3.1 million from Pennsylvania.
Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, followed closely behind, with a massive pool of individual donors that gave almost $3 million.
Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, came in third, receiving more than $2 million.
And Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., was the only other candidate to receive more than $1 million from Pennsylvania, taking in more than $1.8 million.
Other candidates received a total of $4.4 million from Pennsylvania donors in 2019, led by Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), entrepreneur Andrew Yang, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D., Calif.). Booker and Harris dropped out of the race before this week’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is spending hundreds of millions of dollars of his own money to flood states with TV advertising and field staff, including more than $10 million worth of TV ads in Pennsylvania. But Bloomberg, a billionaire, is funding his own campaign and not accepting donations.
The top four candidates have taken very different paths to financial dominance, according to the Inquirer analysis of data reported Friday to the Federal Election Commission:
Biden, who has relied heavily on large-dollar fund-raisers, has the smallest donor base of the four, but with much higher donation amounts.
Sanders’ small-dollar donors give less than half the amount that Biden’s donors do, but Sanders has more than twice as many of them.
Warren, who like Sanders relies on small-dollar donors and eschews big fund-raising events, has the second-largest pool of individual donors, and those backers give amounts comparable to Sanders’ donors.
And Buttigieg has raised money from a mix of both small- and large-dollar donations, with more donors than Biden but fewer than Warren and Sanders.
The Inquirer analysis was based on data reported directly by the campaigns throughout the year, along with filings from ActBlue, the political-giving platform that processes online donations to Democrats. A small percentage of donations are not reported to the FEC in an itemized way, including small donations that are given directly to a campaign and do not meet the $200 threshold for federal disclosure. The data are also imperfect because of reporting errors in finance filings generally, and because donors may, for example, change names or addresses and be counted as two separate individuals.
Still, the combined data account for the vast majority of donations and reflect the best numbers available on campaigns’ fund-raising.
The analysis found differing fund-raising strategies and success, reflecting the candidates’ diverging approaches to the primary race nationally and an evolving campaign-finance landscape.
Consider Biden and Sanders, the strongest examples of two opposite strategies.
Biden, a moderate with a long history in the party, has deep wells of support within the Democratic establishment and has drawn on them through a traditional campaign of large fund-raising events and “bundlers,” who seek to continually tap wealthy political networks for money.
Sanders, on the other hand, broke new ground in the 2016 presidential race by relying on a broad base of grassroots supporters who have proven willing to donate small amounts, often in recurring gifts. That fund-raising approach also matches Sanders’ broader strategy, given his positioning as a progressive party outsider promising a “political revolution.”
They are two wildly different approaches to raising money, but both successful, at least so far. Sanders has raised almost as much money as Biden in Pennsylvania, despite Biden’s home-field advantage as a native son who headquartered his campaign in Center City Philadelphia.
Nationally, Sanders raised almost $109 million through the end of 2019 — more than any other candidate and 79% more than Biden’s $61 million. Sanders had $18.1 million in the bank to close the quarter, twice as much as Biden.
Biden’s reliance on large-dollar donors also means his campaign faces more pressure to perform well in early-voting states, as donors are less likely to write big checks if he doesn’t appear to have a path to victory.
The data filed Friday also show Biden gained strength in the last months of the year, recovering from an anemic summer: Biden raised more than $372,000 a month in Pennsylvania from September through December, more than double his monthly average of $163,000 in June, July, and August.
Sanders raised more money in Pennsylvania in December — $559,000 — than in any previous month. And Warren and Buttigieg continued to raise money at a steady pace.
In addition to total amount raised, another metric is revealing of candidates’ fund-raising strength: the total number of donors, especially new ones. And by this measure, Biden shows weakness, as does Buttigieg, while Warren and especially Sanders have continued to grow.
Sanders has significantly more Pennsylvania donors than the other candidates, and by the end of the year had attracted more than twice as many donors as Biden, who had the smallest donor base.
Since June, Sanders and Warren have had more total Pennsylvania donors than Buttigieg and Biden. And that gap has grown as the progressive candidates have added donors at a faster rate than the moderate ones.
Biden has received an average of almost 1,800 new Pennsylvania donors a month since announcing his candidacy, while Buttigieg averaged just over 2,000. By contrast, Warren added 3,000 new donors a month, and Sanders received almost 3,600 monthly.
So while Sanders in May had about 9,000 more donors than Biden, that gap had grown by the end of the year to more than 25,000. And while Buttigieg had more donors than Warren in March, April, and May, since then, Warren has added donors at a faster rate. By the end of the year, Warren had about 6,000 more Pennsylvania donors than Buttigieg.
Sanders and Warren also saw spikes in new donors in December, with Sanders adding more than 7,000, or about 17% of his donor base, and Warren adding almost 2,800 donors, expanding her donor base by about 9%.