Late last week, Bernie Sanders’ campaign announced that it raised $44 million in March, which represents an extraordinary success story. The Vermont independent raised a jaw-dropping $109 million in the first quarter, which in practical terms, may actually be more money than the campaign knows what to do with. For any national political endeavor, it’s a fantastic “problem” to have.
In his statement announcing his latest financial triumph, Sanders emphasized details he has every reason to be proud of: his campaign has now received over 6.5 million contributions from 1.7 million individual Americans, with an average contribution of just $27. The senator’s email to supporters referenced the potency of his “revolution” – three times.
Yesterday afternoon, meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s campaign announced its fundraising tally over the same period, and though Sanders hasn’t matched his rival in votes or wins, we were reminded once more that he’s easily defeating her when it comes to dollars in the bank. But the Clinton campaign’s press release added something Sanders’ did not:
Hillary Clinton raised about $29.5 million for her primary campaign during March. That amount brings the first quarter total to nearly $75 million raised for the primary, beating the campaign’s goal of $50 million by about 50 percent. [Hillary For America] begins April with nearly $29 million on hand.Clinton raised an additional $6.1 million for the DNC and state parties during the month of March, bringing the total for the quarter to about $15 million [emphasis added].
The first part matters, of course, to the extent that Sanders’ fundraising juggernaut is eclipsing Clinton’s operation, but it’s the second part that stands out. How much money did Sanders raise for the DNC and state parties in March? Actually, zero. For the quarter, the total was also zero.
And while the typical voter probably doesn’t know or care about candidates’ work on behalf of down-ballot allies, this speaks to a key difference between Sanders and Clinton: the former is positioning himself as the leader of a revolution; the latter is positioning herself as the leader of the Democratic Party. For Sanders, it means raising amazing amounts of money to advance his ambitions; for Clinton, it means also raising money to help other Democratic candidates.
As Rachel noted on the show last night, the former Secretary of State has begun emphasizing this angle while speaking to voters on the campaign trail. Here, for example, is Clinton addressing a Wisconsin audience over the weekend:
“I’m also a Democrat and have been a proud Democrat all my adult life. I think that’s kind of important if we’re selecting somebody to be the Democratic nominee of the Democratic Party.“But what it also means is that I know how important to elect state legislatures, to elect Democratic governors, to elect a Democratic Senate and House of Representatives.”
The message wasn’t subtle: Clinton is a Democrat and Sanders isn’t; Clinton is working to help Democrats up and down the ballot and Sanders isn’t.
It’s worth emphasizing that this dynamic may yet change. When Rachel asked Sanders directly last week if he foresees a point in which he’ll start trying to raise funds to help candidates other than himself, the senator replied, “Well, we’ll see.”
In other words, maybe Sanders’ approach will change, maybe not. Time will tell.
I honestly have no idea whether, and to what extent, rank-and-file voters are going to be moved by any of this – as a rule, fundraising tallies and strategies are seen as a small detail of interest to those who follow campaigns at a granular level – but it’s probably safe to say Democratic officials who serve as superdelegates are taking note of these developments. If pressed in the coming months to influence the outcome of the nominating race, it’s easy to imagine some of these officials asking the candidates, “What have you done to help the party?”