Elizabeth Warren tripled her fundraising in the last three months, outpacing Bernie Sanders

“We raised more money than any other 100% grassroots-funded campaign."

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at the 2019 Essence Festival at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on Saturday, July 6, 2019, in New Orleans. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks Saturday at the 2019 Essence Festival in New Orleans. –Amy Harris / AP

WASHINGTON — Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts raised $19.1 million in the past three months, her campaign said Monday, a total that places her firmly in the top echelon of the Democratic money race and ahead of her main rival for the party’s progressive wing, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The fundraising haul represents a turnaround for Warren after she raised just $6 million in her campaign’s first three months, before her strategy of eschewing high-dollar fundraising and inundating voters with detailed policy proposals began to pay dividends.

Warren’s campaign team said her fortunes began to turn the last week of March, about a month after her decision to forgo closed-door fund-raising events during the primary campaign.

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Warren’s total for the second quarter, which ran from April through June, is likely to place her third in fundraising among Democrats over that period.

Two candidates have reported topping $20 million in the second quarter: Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, raised $24.8 million, and former Vice President Joe Biden collected $21.5 million, their campaigns said last week. Behind them, Sanders brought in $18 million, and Sen. Kamala Harris of California raised nearly $12 million, their campaigns said.

We raised more money than any other 100% grassroots-funded campaign,” Roger Lau, the Warren campaign manager, wrote in an email to supporters Monday, taking an implicit shot at Buttigieg and Biden, who have raked in money on the traditional fundraising circuit.

“You sent a message that Elizabeth’s vision for the future is worth fighting for,” Lau wrote. “And you showed the rich and powerful that change is coming — sooner than they think.”

Warren’s fund-raising total is the latest evidence that her policy-driven strategy is resonating with a growing segment of the Democratic base. In March, her allies openly questioned her plan to reject high-dollar fund-raisers and rely on a grass-roots base. More specifically, some worried that she would struggle to escape the shadow of Sanders, who had built a seemingly unmatchable fund-raising juggernaut behind his progressive brand. Warren’s fund-raising director resigned in March.

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Warren has now bested Sanders in fundraising just one quarter later, after months of building momentum. Her growth has been driven by policy announcements that were well-received by progressives, a slew of candidate forums where she earned positive reviews, and moments when she seized on the news of the day — like when she called for President Donald Trump’s impeachment after the release of the special counsel’s report.

Warren is expected to continue to try to use policy announcements to create news and drive donations, which will be necessary to sustain her large staff in early primary states. At her campaign’s events in recent months, her “I Have a Plan” mantra has become a vocal rallying cry among supporters, and proposals like student debt cancellation now elicit sustained applause. Voters repeatedly say that, more than any individual proposal, Warren’s overall policy focus has helped them believe she is prepared for the office.

The third quarter is a traditionally difficult fundraising period. Warren must also overcome concerns that linger among Democrats over how she would fare against Trump in a general election. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted last week, just 7% of likely Democratic primary voters said Warren had the best chance to beat Trump next year.

Warren collected money in the second quarter from 384,000 donors, whose donations averaged $28, her campaign said. She finished the quarter with $19.7 million in cash on hand, less than $100,000 of which is earmarked for the general election, her campaign said.

Warren’s decision to rely on small donations to power her campaign still carries risk, given that some of her rivals are raking in huge amounts of cash at fundraising events with wealthy donors.

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She has enjoyed a big financial cushion in the early stages of the race because she transferred $10.4 million to her presidential bid from her Senate campaign account in the first quarter.

But she will need to keep raising money to fund the expensive campaign operation she has built. Her campaign’s spending in the first quarter of the year, more than $5 million, was the highest in the Democratic field. She had by far the biggest staff in the quarter, according to Federal Election Commission records, with about 160 people on her payroll.

Her staff has grown to 300 since then, her aides said, with 60% of her employees stationed in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, the first states to vote in next year’s primary. She has built a particularly large operation in Iowa, the first state with a nominating contest.

Instead of courting wealthy donors, Warren has made a habit of placing phone calls to people who give her money online, interactions that have ended with joyful posts on social media. At her campaign events, she sticks around to take pictures with anyone who wants to meet her.

Presidential candidates are required to report their fundraising and spending to the Federal Election Commission by July 15. Those reports will provide details on what the candidates are raising and spending — including a more detailed picture of how Warren has expanded her campaign operation since the last quarter.