Elizabeth Warren’s campaign announces $6M first-quarter haul

2020 presidential candidates
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Democrat: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts announced on Dec. 31, 2018, she would form an exploratory committee. She announced Feb. 9, 29109, that she was officially entering the race.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised more than $6 million for her presidential bid in the first quarter of 2019 and has $11.2 million in the bank, her campaign announced Wednesday, as advisers tell CNN that Warren is making huge hires in the early states and preparing for a slog to the 2020 Democratic convention.

In an email to supporters, Warren’s campaign manager Roger Lau said that more than 135,000 donors made over 213,000 contributions in the first three months of the year, with an average donation of $28. A significant chunk of her total haul — more than $1.4 million — came in during the final week of the quarter when the campaign received over 50,000 new donations, Lau said. Warren transferred $10.4 million from her Senate campaign account, according to aides, and she spent $5.2 million — most of what she raised — in the first quarter.

Warren’s fundraising haul falls well behind Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ $18.2 million, California Sen. Kamala Harris’ $12 million, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s $9.4 million, and is also shy of the $7 million announced by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Warren launched her exploratory committee on New Year’s Eve and has had significantly more time than some of her competitors to raise cash, but her campaign has also not held a single fundraiser or solicited high-dollar checks.

The number of people that gave to Warren’s campaign — more than 135,000 — is not far off from the 138,000 contributors touted by Harris and the 158,000 announced by Buttigieg. (All three candidates are eclipsed by Sanders on this front — he said 525,000 donors gave to his campaign since he entered the race in February. O’Rourke’s campaign has not revealed its number of donors.)

In conversations with CNN this week, Warren advisers painted a picture of a campaign that is laying the groundwork for a protracted battle for the Democratic nomination and anticipating the possibility that the Democratic contest turns into a 50-state scramble to pick up delegates. Warren has also focused heavily on ramping up operations on the ground, hiring scores of campaign staff and prioritizing human contact with voters in the field, aides said.

The Warren campaign now has more than 170 full-time paid staff, according to aides, with about half of them deployed in the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

Asked whether her campaign would adjust its game plan if her first quarter fundraising proved to be disappointing, the Massachusetts Democrat insisted in a brief interview with CNN last Friday: “I’m running the campaign I want to run.”

“Instead of spending time with millionaire donors, I’m now at 12 states and Puerto Rico,” Warren said, “spending time with people who’re going to build the grassroots energy for us to win in 2020 and to make the changes we need to make in 2021.”

Warren vowed earlier this year that for the duration of the 2020 primary contest, she would not solicit any money from wealthy donors, including via fundraisers, receptions and phone calls. The decision led to the departure of her finance director Michael Pratt, a defection that appeared especially conspicuous given the tight-knit nature of Warren’s inner circle of advisers.

But the campaign, including Warren herself, has stood by the decision, casting it as philosophically in line with the senator’s years-long crusade against big money in politics. The team has also described it as an important way of freeing up campaign resources, including the candidate’s time, to focus on grassroots campaigning and organizing.

Even with the emphasis on the early states, Warren advisers told CNN this week that the campaign is also pursuing a 50-state strategy. Ten months out from the Iowa caucuses, Warren’s leadership team is currently looking far ahead on the 2020 calendar and mapping out opportunities to pick up delegates as it anticipates what could be a long slog to the convention.

One telling sign: Brendan Summers, Sanders’ Iowa caucus director in 2016 and a high-profile hire for Warren this cycle, is not based in Iowa. Instead, he’s camped out at Warren’s campaign headquarters in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, aides familiar with Summers’ role told CNN. The campaign has been leaning heavily on Summers’ expertise on delegate math, they said, in addition to his knowledge of the Iowa and Nevada caucuses.

To that end, Warren has traveled to a dozen states and Puerto Rico in just over three months, at a stage in the election when plenty of her competitors are mostly sticking to a handful of early states. Next week, Warren plans to add two new states to her growing list — Colorado and Utah. It is not an accident, aides noted, that last month, Warren campaigned in two states that don’t vote until March 3 — Alabama and Tennessee. The campaign said Warren has clocked in 48 campaign events so far this year.

Doug Rubin, a veteran political strategist who has previously advised Warren, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and others, summed up the Warren campaign’s strategy this way: “Playing for the long-haul.”

“I think she’s setting this up to be a significant, long-haul play,” said Rubin, who is currently unaffiliated with any 2020 campaign. “I lived through 2012 with her. She was behind in the polls early on to Scott Brown. People questioned whether she could do it — and she just stayed very focused; she had a game plan.”

But as the 2020 season heads into the next phase, Warren — who, until a few months ago, was widely expected to be a frontrunner — is lagging in the polls.

A recent Quinnipiac survey had just 4% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters saying they would support Warren, putting her far behind former Vice President Joe Biden’s 29%, Sanders’ 19%, O’Rourke’s 12% and Harris’ 8%. Buttigieg also had 4% support.

In Iowa, a CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll in March showed Biden and Sanders leading the pack with 27% and 25% of support, respectively. Warren polled at 9%, followed by Harris at 7%.

Warren’s overarching challenge is not unique to her campaign: standing out in a crowded field of almost 20 Democratic candidates.

Her aides point to Warren’s dominance on policy as a major part of their long-term strategy to do exactly that. The senator has put forward far-reaching, progressive proposals, including a plan to tax the wealthiest Americans, break up tech giants and on universal child care.

Warren’s most recent call to end the legislative filibuster put her Senate rivals in the spotlight, forcing some of them to take a position on the divisive issue.

One Iowa political operative who has been observing the Democratic candidates coming through their state this year, said that the next obvious moment for any of the White House hopefuls to stand out is the Democratic primary debates, which begin in June.

“If they can’t develop some kind of excitement or rebirth when these debates begin,” the operative said, “it’s going to be tough, and there’s no denying that.”