With the Democrat nomination under way some political insiders and strategists say the way to see which candidates will remain viable is simple: look at the money, especially with Super Tuesday approaching which will require huge amounts of cash to be competitive in advertising in numerous states simultaneously. The thinking is that - barring some unexpected surprise revival of Biden's dying campaign - that Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg - and perhaps Pete Buttigieg - will be the ones with the money to remain competitive. Many Democrats complain about money in politics, yet the way campaign costs have skyrocketed, money becomes a determining factor. Likely casualties will be Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar and, of course Biden, if donors run scared based on his abysmal showings in Iowa and New Hampshire. Meanwhile, the husband and I have been invited to meet with Bloomberg staffers next week as Bloomberg goes all out in Virginia. Here are excerpts from a piece in Vanity Fair on the money picture:
More than a dozen states and territories will vote on Super Tuesday, little more than two days after the polls close in South Carolina’s primary. That short window, every four years, shines a harsh light on whoever emerges from the first four states with a pulse. It reveals which campaigns are serious built-to-last enterprises, and punishes the ones that are flash-in-the-plan flukes, destined only for Wikipedia entries about the 2020 primary race.
[A] grim truth is that Democrats should be looking at another metric—money—that says much more about where this race is going. And barring huge surprises or upset comebacks in Nevada or South Carolina, the money suggests something rather obvious: The Democratic primary is careening toward a head-to-head clash between Michael Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders, currently the only two candidates with the cash and constituencies to push their candidacies beyond the first four states and Super Tuesday. Who else can scale up? “This is a huge issue,” said David Axelrod, the former Barack Obama adviser. “The cost of competing across 14 states is astronomical and the remaining candidates will expend most of their limited kitties to get there. For Bloomberg, the Super Tuesday ante is lunch money. He will be able to communicate at a high level everywhere. Bernie has a reliable, renewable war chest and universal recognition. For the others, they have to hope to catch a wave of publicity and dollars off of unexpected showings in Nevada and South Carolina.”
Rufus Gifford, a Democratic fundraiser who held senior finance jobs for both of Obama’s campaigns, said he thinks there will be three finalists for the nomination in the end. “But Bernie and Bloomberg are definitely going to be two of them,” said Gifford. “It’s because they have money. They have resources. It’s hard to think of who else will be viable.”
Bloomberg has built an almost 50-state campaign from scratch, spending almost $300 million on television ads and roughly $50 million on digital ads, saturating YouTube ads to the point where there are now teenagers on TikTok reciting his ad scripts by heart. He’s now in third place nationally, barely trailing Biden and cutting into his support among black voters. Sanders, meanwhile, has a first place hold in the national polls and a burst of momentum thanks to back-to-back victories, however narrow, in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Among the rest of the Democrats, only Pete Buttigieg—slightly ahead of Sanders in the delegate chase—has proven himself a durable fundraiser, working the big-donor circuit as hard as his email list. He has a packed fundraising schedule over the next two weeks. But Buttigieg has to show growth among nonwhite voters. His donor support may shrivel if he doesn’t. “Donors are the consummate CNN and MSNBC viewers, they watch media trends, they pay attention to the buzz,” said Gifford.
Biden has never been a strong fundraiser. . . . . Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, made a show of refusing big donors early in the campaign, a departure from her Senate races, a decision that’s left her dangerously handcuffed if the donations dry up.
A reason many have failed in this primary is they have run out of money and massively underestimated how easy it would be to raise money.” Both Biden and Warren are at risk of running out of cash if they don’t finish well in Nevada and South Carolina. Amy Klobuchar has boasted about raising more than $2 million after her surprise third-place finish in New Hampshire, but those dollars will only go so far without having built a war chest over time. “Every dollar Amy gets, she’s gotta spend it,” said James Carville, the longtime Democratic strategist. “She’s living off the land. If she gets a dollar, it’s gotta go somewhere, and then you’re depleted again.”
Buttigieg, Warren, and Biden all have staffers on the ground in Super Tuesday states, with Buttigieg clearly in a stronger position than both, according to polls, delegates and money. But only two Democrats, Sanders and Bloomberg, have the financial resources to wage the long and costly battle ahead, regardless of what happens in Nevada or South Carolina.
Even if one of the Democrats comes roaring back from the dead, a Point Break–size tidal wave of publicity won’t generate the kind of earned media needed to compete with Bloomberg’s billions. Among the Super Tuesday states, several of which have already started voting, Bloomberg has spent $40 million in California, $33 million in Texas, $9.5 million in North Carolina, $6 million in Massachusetts and remarkably has the airwaves to himself in Virginia and Alabama, according to the media tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
The expensive days of March will bring with them another phenomenon: The unfortunate spectacle of candidates who refuse to quit even when they’re out of cash and have no path forward. Zombie campaigns were a staple of Republican primaries in recent cycles, when underdogs like Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and John Kasich hustled their way to come-from-behind finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Their early-state surprises got them an addictive rush of media attention and enough money to soldier on by flying coach, but not enough support to make a dent in the race.
For the Democrats, who allocate their delegates proportionally in each primary and caucus state, there’s a likelihood that multiple candidates stay in the race on life support, collecting the occasional delegate and going on CNN to talk about it.
“The challenge for Democrats is that since nothing is winner-take-all, there’s even less incentive to drop out than there was in the GOP race,” said Schrimpf, who advised Kasich’s 2016 bid. “So you hang on, just like Republicans did, until you don’t have to be super self-aware to realize you aren’t going to be the nominee.” The question those dead-enders will have to ask themselves in a few weeks, if nothing drastic changes, will be an uncomfortable one, a prospect almost no smart person in politics considered just three months ago: Do you get behind the socialist, or the billionaire?