DES MOINES, Iowa – Former Vice President Joe Biden reported Friday that he had $9 million in reserve at the end of 2019, an underwhelming sum that suggests he could struggle to compete with his better funded rivals in the weeks ahead.
Biden has lagged behind Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, as well as former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg in raising money for his presidential campaign. They reported having a minimum of about $5 million more than Biden in disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission ahead of Friday's deadline.
With the Iowa Caucuses looming Monday, Biden's campaign sought to get out in front of the news earlier in the day, telling supporters in a memo that January was their best fundraising month since he launched his Democratic bid for the White House. Yet his campaign declined to say how much it raised during that period, which falls outside of the reporting period reflected in the reports.
How much cash 2020 contenders have on hand offers a key indicator of the health of their campaign. And a poor performance in the caucuses combined with an anemic bank account balance has doomed candidates in the past.
“For the guys and gals who have spent substantial resources getting to this stage in Iowa, if they don’t meet expectations, they are going to be in a position where they have to live off the land in the coming weeks, which is not a fun place to be,” said Danny Diaz, a Republican consultant who was a senior adviser for Mitt Romney's 2012 White House bid and the manager of Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign.
Biden had a similar amount in the bank at the end of September, the last fundraising quarter that data is available for, while his rivals reported substantially larger sums. Since then, his campaign has dribbled out fundraising totals that suggested it was improving.
The memo to supporters Friday stated that Biden will have the resources to compete while downplaying the importance of being a leading fundraiser
"Elections ultimately are not about money, they’re about having the right message and vision for the country. But you have to have the resources to compete, which we unequivocally do," campaign manager Greg Schultz wrote.
It also appears his campaign took steps to make cuts and spent about $10 million less than Warren during the final three months of 2019. Sanders and Buttigieg spent more than Warren.
Biden spent about $23 million during that period. In comparison, Sanders spent $50 million and had the most cash still on hand, with $18.2 million in the bank. Buttigieg reported that he spent $34 million during that time and had $14.5 million cash on hand, while Warren spent $33 million with $13.7 million left.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, another contender, had $4.9 million in reserve after spending $10.1 million.
Compared to Warren and Sanders, Biden faces a disadvantage.
Throughout the primary, many of the party’s biggest fundraisers and donors have stayed on the sidelines, or given to multiple candidates. While that has started to change in recent months, many have yet to leverage their personal connections and networks to package together large sums for candidates, a term often referred to as “bundling”
Those who rely on traditional donors to fund their campaigns, like Biden, are also likely to face additional headwinds coming out of Iowa because many of their most ardent supporters have already given the $2,800 maximum. That requires them to bring in new donors.
Meanwhile, Warren and Sanders, the two leading progressives in the race, have relied on an army of small-dollar grassroots donors chipping in small amounts — a source of campaign cash that doesn't easily max out.
“If one underperforms (in Iowa) and you're strapped for cash, you're probably going to crash and burn,” said David Brock, a major Democratic fundraiser who leads two outside groups that are targeting Trump in the general election. “It may be that we see even further winnowing of the field soon.”
A super PAC founded by Biden allies reported that it spent $2.9 million of the $3.7 million it raised by the year's end. The group, which legally cannot coordinate with Biden's campaign, said in a news release that it has since taken in a total of $7.6 million, most of which was spent on ads in Iowa. Steve Schale, a strategist for the group, did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, despite his fundraising struggles, Biden has shown himself to be a durable competitor. And in recent weeks he has drawn in several high profile endorsers, including Rufus Gifford, a well-connected party fundraiser who was Barack Obama's 2012 finance director.
“I’ve had a lot of informal conversations with people who have been sitting on the sidelines or have supported other candidates who dropped out of the race. And many have the same feeling I have: he’s our best shot to beat Trump and is the responsible, experienced president we need,” Gifford said last week.
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