Money Makes the Political World Go ‘Round – “Sunday Political Brunch” - January 5, 2020


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – There’s an old saying, “Money is the Mother’s Milk of Politics!” It’s a recognition that fundraising is a critical part of office seeking, from the White House, on down. To me, it’s over-simplified. I’ve always preached my “Four M’s of Politics: Money, Manpower, Message and Momentum!” But this week quarterly and annual finance reports came due, and it may say a lot about where this race is going, so let’s “brunch” on that this week!

“Bernie’s Burnin’ Bucks” – After some lackluster debate performances, Senator Bernie Sanders has gotten fired up again in the past two contests, and that may explain the uptick in his fundraising. Sanders’ campaign took in $35.5 million dollars in the last quarter, in many cases due to the collectively large number of smaller donors he typically sees. According to the latest Real Clear Politics (RCP) composite poll, Sanders is now a strong second for the nomination in national polls, has moved back into the number two slot in Iowa, and is leading in New Hampshire.

“Trump, ‘Trumps’ them All” – For an officeholder whom experts would have you believe is so unpopular, President Trump actually leads the fundraising race (which is not unusual for any incumbent from either party). In the final quarter of 2019, the Trump campaign filed reports saying it had raised $46 million dollars, which was more than any other candidate. And yes, the president is very wealthy in his own right, but these donations do not include whatever he may have tossed into the pot. Clearly his base support is solid, and it shows from individual contributions.

“Paying Down on Pete” – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been surging, largely on consistently solid debate performances. His campaign raised $24.7 million dollars in the last quarter. In the national RCP composite poll, he is still in fourth place with just 8.3 percent, but he leads in Iowa, favored by 22 percent of those polled. I mentioned the importance of momentum earlier. If Buttigieg holds on and scores an upset in Iowa, he’ll have huge momentum. Remember, at different stages of this race, Biden, Warren, and Sanders have all polled ahead in Iowa, so we’ve had four different frontrunners, with the caucuses just a month away on February 3rd. A last-minute fundraising surge helps buy media advertising.

“The Ying and Yang of It” – The fourth most prolific fundraiser in the fourth quarter after Trump, Sanders and Buttigieg, was businessman-turned-upstart-candidate Andrew Yang, who collected $16.7 million dollars. He’s caught the public fancy with ideas such as giving every person in the country $1,000 a month (or something like that). He’s catchy and quotable and I admit wins my, “Most Intriguing Candidate Award,” (which is NOT an endorsement, just a fascination). While Yang has raised $32 million overall, he’s only spent $9 million. Flush with that kind of cash he could buy lots of ads and half-hour infomercials in the early states. He’s in this race!

“Warren’s War Chest” – The Federal Election Commission, FEC filings, show that Senator Elizabeth Warren has raised just shy of $80 million dollars, including her campaign’s estimate of $17 million in the fourth quarter. While she has spent $35 million, she basically has a huge campaign war chest for final ad blitzes in the first four contests of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. She’ll need to spend it. The RCP composite poll has her running third nationally, but she’s faded to fourth in the latest Iowa and New Hampshire polls.

“Biden’s Bucks?” – If there’s one candidate whose campaign funding may seem lackluster by comparison, it’s that of former Vice President Joe Biden. He raised just $38 million dollars in the first three quarters and is projecting another $22 million for the fourth quarter. But, just $60 million for the two-term VP? That seems anemic. Biden leads the RCP national poll by nine points, but national polls are more of a “beauty contest” since there is no national primary. Biden is currently polling third in both Iowa and New Hampshire but is the frontrunner in Nevada and South Carolina. If he can survive the first four contests intact, then he may indeed be the national frontrunner.

“The ‘Four M’s of Politics’” – I repeat my mantra that the four key elements are money, manpower, message and momentum. First, let’s dispel a myth: the person with the most money always wins. It’s just not true. Time and time again in presidential, congressional, gubernational and on down the line, the person who raises the most cash, does not always win. Building a loyal and wide campaign staff is critical. Having issues (and messages) that resonate with average voters is critical (think underdog Barack Obama in 2008). And then seizing on momentum, like a strong “Top Three” finish in Iowa and New Hampshire can help a campaign catch fire. Yes, money is great, but it’s only part of the magic elixir of the “Four M’s.”

We’re a month away from the Iowa Caucuses, so who’s your pick right now? And are you a firm commitment, or might you change your mind? Click the comment button and let us now.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is also a National Contributing Political Writer for the White House Patch at

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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