Pete Buttigieg’s campaign jolted its top donors with big news on a conference call last month: The upstart mayor had raised $7 million in the month of April alone, as much as Buttigieg had in his entire eye-catching first quarter in the presidential race.
The huge April haul, which was previously unreported, highlights Buttigieg’s explosive rise in the Democratic presidential race — and Buttigieg hopes to do it again next month by announcing a top-tier second quarter haul that at least doubles his last campaign finance report, putting the 37-year-old among the biggest fundraisers seeking the presidency in 2020 and cementing his leap from long shot status at the beginning this year.
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Buttigieg has scheduled 21 fundraising events around the country before the end-of-June deadline, according to an event list obtained by POLITICO, with multiple stops in donor-rich locations like Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. To date, the South Bend, Ind., mayor has also brought in over $1 million from 16 “grassroots fundraisers,” rallies that charge $25 and up for small-dollar donors.
And the campaign has urged its donors to step on the gas on their own, outside of the candidate’s fundraisers, to help meet its lofty goals, encouraging contests among bundlers to bring in the most cash and reminding them that hefty fundraising was a key factor that legitimized Barack Obama in the early days of the 2008 presidential campaign.
“If you want to show you’re growing, if you want to show you’ve got any shot at this, then you need to be growing,” said veteran Democratic fundraiser Julianna Smoot, the finance director on Obama’s 2008 campaign and a deputy campaign manager for his reelection in 2012. “And he’s clearly showing signs that he’s expanding.”
Buttigieg rode a series of viral moments into the upper echelon of the 2020 Democratic primary field, consistently polling in the top five nationally this spring after he busted out at a CNN town hall in March. The $7 million he raised in the first quarter mostly came in after that performance, shaking a campaign that started out with a bare-bones staff, few fundraisers and no expectations.
“Last time, I’d say [his fundraising] put him in the bottom of the top tier — now I’d say he’s firmly in it,” said Connor Farrell, a veteran Democratic fundraiser, comparing the Buttigieg campaign’s growth from the end of the first quarter to the end of the second fundraising quarter.
But Farrell cautioned that it’s still unclear where Buttigieg lands because no one knows how other Democratic candidates have fared raising money in the second quarter by comparison.
The top Democratic fundraiser from the first three months of the year, Sen. Bernie Sanders, only got into the race in mid-February and still raised over $18 million; this time, Sanders has had a full three months to push for donations from his millions-strong email list. Former Vice President Joe Biden could also turn in a huge second quarter: He smashed the Democratic field’s first-day fundraising mark by bringing in $6.3 million when he joined the race in April, and he has since held a series of lucrative fundraisers around the country.
And other contenders from Sen. Kamala Harris to former Rep. Beto O’Rourke have aggressively courted donors in cities around the country while also raising large sums online.
Still, Buttigieg’s supporters are confident that his growing fundraising network will push him past most of his Democratic rivals.
“There doesn’t seem to be any slowdown in terms of momentum for fundraising,” said one Buttigieg donor, granted anonymity to speak candidly. “It’s continuing at a pretty high velocity, [and] the investor’s circle” — the campaign’s term for its national finance team of top bundlers — “is getting wider, more inclusive and more diverse.”
In an email to fundraisers obtained by POLITICO, Josh Kramer, the campaign’s mid-Atlantic investment director, stressed that a strong second quarter is essential to the campaign’s future.
“This is going to be a huge marker and we want to make sure Pete is in the best possible position to post an impressive number,” Kramer wrote. “Thanks to you all, we are well on our way to doing just that. If you remember back to 2007. Then Senator Obama outraised Hillary Clinton in the 2nd Quarter. It truly established him as a real competitor to her and elevated him in the mind of the media and the public to a top tier contender. This Quarter has the same potential for Pete.”
In an effort to turn that potential into reality, Buttigieg’s campaign has scheduled 28 events — including “grassroots” fundraisers, private receptions and gatherings billed as “coffee and conversations” with the candidate — from mid-June to mid-July, including 21 before the end of the current fundraising quarter. After the June 30 quarterly deadline, Buttigieg already has fundraisers in elite locales like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket lined up to start off the third quarter of the year.
The campaign has also capitalized on its social media popularity by organizing “grassroots” fundraising events for supporters across the country, including in Miami, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. More than half of the attendees at these events are new supporters of the campaign, Buttigieg aides said. And although they are geared at low-dollar donors, they can still bring in big cash — a single San Francisco event raised $140,000.
And Buttigieg’s husband, Chasten, who gained viral fame of his own on Twitter, has become a major campaign draw himself. By the end of the second fundraising quarter, he will have headlined nine events for the campaign, including a “Conversation and Birthday Celebration with Chasten Buttigieg” in Washington, D.C. on June 20.
That aggressive campaign schedule has shown signs of paying off, in everything from polls to staffing levels.
“The dollars raised here will help ensure sustained viability and let him get his message out, hire staff, and do all the things that successful campaigns need to do to stay relevant, stay viable, and continue fighting,” said Scott Mulhauser, a Democratic strategist and former top adviser for the 2012 Obama reelection campaign.
A Des Moines Register/CNN poll earlier in June found Buttigieg in fourth place in Iowa, having gained 13 percentage points since the previous survey, when he barely registered. The Buttigieg team also ballooned over the two months, adding national and early-state staff at a fast clip to catch up with other 2020 presidential campaigns.
“We’re at a really exciting phase of the campaign right now because the growth that you’ve all seen has been extraordinary,” Buttigieg said at a campaign event in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday. The candidate described the early stages of his campaign, with four people working out of an office building in downtown South Bend that “looked like a detective agency from the ’40s.”
“Now we’ve quickly grown well past 100 people,” Buttigieg continued amid laughter from his upbeat supporters.