Democrats chase Trump in Michigan fundraising; Buttigieg leads primary pack

Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, left, speaks as former vice president Joe Biden.

Three Democratic presidential hopefuls reported at least $100,000 in contributions from Michigan residents in the second quarter, but Republican President Donald Trump raised more than the top two combined in the important swing state.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg led all Democrats with $199,185 in itemized contributions from Michigan donors, a portion of his $24.9 million national haul that cemented his climb from little-known local official to legitimate primary force. 

Buttigieg has not yet campaigned in Michigan but is expected to make his first stop here on Sunday to attend a national NAACP conference at Cobo Center ahead of the second presidential debates on July 30-31 in Detroit.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont reported raising $128,299 from Michigan donors, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at $109,207, according to itemized records required for donors who have given at least $200 so far.

Trump, who narrowly won Michigan in 2016 and is seeking reelection, raised at least $412,395 in the state between April 1 and June 30, according to his quarterly filing with the Federal Election Commission. That compares with $685,104 for 18 Democratic candidates with Michigan donors combined.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, considered an early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, raised more than $22 million nationally, trailing only Buttigieg in the crowded primary field. 

But Biden reported relatively modest numbers from Michigan, where he raised $68,061, the fifth largest haul for Democrats in the quarter. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who sparred with Biden in the first presidential debate, finished fourth in Michigan fundraising at $82,726.

Despite the impressive early totals, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia Center for Politics cautioned not to “over-interpret” fundraising numbers. 

“Dollars raised do not reflect popularity in many cases," Sabato said. "Nor can money buy a presidential election. Just ask Hillary Clinton, among many others."

Buttigieg bump

Buttigieg notched his major Michigan haul without personally campaigning in the state. More than half of the 25-candidate field has already visited here as they seek to flip a state that Trump turned Republican for the first time since 1988.

"We're thrilled by the enthusiasm and support from folks all over Michigan, and we're looking forward to being in the state a couple times over the next few weeks,” said Buttigieg spokesman Chris Meagher.

Buttigieg is expected in Saugatuck next week for a private fundraiser and will be among 20 Democrats who are set take the stage in Detroit for the July 30 and 31 debates. The participants are expected to be announced Wednesday.

The 37-year-old mayor also will be in Detroit on Sunday evening for the national NAACP convention, Meagher said. It’s not clear if he’ll also join Biden and other top Democrats scheduled to participate in an NAACP forum on July 24.

Buttigieg’s campaign has struggled to connect with black voters amid scrutiny of his record in South Bend, where a white police officer without his body camera on recently shot and killed a black man. The mayor responded last week by releasing a plan to “intentionally dismantle racist structures and systems” in the federal government.

Buttigieg has failed to reach double digits in most recent national polls, but organizational strength can also be a telling sign in the early stages of a campaign, said pollster Richard Czuba.

“And fundraising is a clear organizational strength,” said Czuba of Lansing-based Glengariff Group. “I think when it comes to Buttigieg, we have to step back and take notice. That’s an awful lot of money for somebody that nationally is only polling in the 5-6% percent range.”

Sabato suggested that a large part of the reason that Buttigieg is raising so much is the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community recognizes the historic nature of his candidacy and wants him to do as well as he can.

“Some are also investing in the future since they see him trying again after he gets more senior-level experience,” Sabato said. 

“Trump has a giant fundraising head start all across the country. As I said, that doesn’t guarantee victory, but it should remind Democrats that overconfidence is most definitely not justified.”

Trump card

Trump's candidate committee and two other authorized entities reported raising a total of $56.7 million last quarter, a national figure his campaign cited when asked about his Michigan totals. 

“In Michigan and across the country, President Trump's undeniable record of success for every American has earned him tremendous grassroots support that will be a cornerstone of the 2020 reelection," Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews said.

"President Trump has delivered for Michigan and our massive fundraising numbers are a testament to the overwhelming support for the booming economy and his record of bringing back manufacturing jobs as promised.”

Trump is using incumbency to raise big bucks, but it’s not clear if massive spending will help influence voter perspectives of a president who is already widely known, Czuba said, noting Trump’s poll numbers appear to be “set in concrete.”

“This is a presidency that is wildly over-exposed,” he said. “Everybody has an opinion, and it’s set.”

Trump trailed Biden and Sanders by double digits in a May 28-30 poll conducted by Czuba’s firm and released to The Detroit News. Buttigieg led the president by six percentage points in the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus four points.

“Money will always matter, but I will say it could be less important (for Trump) given that everybody seems to have made up their mind here,” Czuba said. “Where it can play a role is down the ballot.”

Although the top five Democratic fundraisers brought in the bulk of all the money raised last quarter, it’s still early to close off the top tier from other contenders, said Nathan L. Gonzales, editor of the Inside Elections newsletter. 

“We’ve only had one set of debates. It’s OK to wait another couple of weeks to get through another set of debates and see if someone stumbles or rises after that,” he said. 

“But the field could winnow down more quickly than previously thought based on fundraising or lack thereof.”

Buttigieg’s fundraising success could be donors wanting to get in on the ground floor of a potentially ground-breaking campaign, or the appeal of his style, youth or outside-of-Washington resume, Gonzales said.

Small-dollar donors

Twenty-five Democrats are competing for the chance to take on Trump in the general election. Nineteen of them reported contributions from Michigan donors, raising a combined $684,803 in the state.

Sanders enjoyed wide support from the grassroots, reporting 3,430 separate contributions from Michigan residents, easily the largest volume among Democrats. The itemized contributions averaged $37 each.

Democrats have battled for small donor bragging rights, but Trump’s campaign has aggressively courted grassroots voters by making financial appeals through digital ads, direct mail and telemarketing.

The efforts appear to be bearing fruit: Trump reported 6,522 contributions from Michigan donors, some of whom gave as little as 75 cents at a time. He reported an average Michigan contribution of $63.23 but also led all Democrats with maximum $2,800 donations from 18 individuals and organizations.

The itemized contribution reports do not capture all small donors from Michigan because campaigns are not required to name contributors who have given less than $200 overall.

But the influx in small-dollar giving shows “there’s a lot of energy among grassroots individuals to get involved” and shows how technology has made it easier for campaigns to reach them, said Craig Mauger, executive director of the non-profit Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

“You can’t open your email inbox or open your Facebook page without seeing a plea for some candidate for money, and that’s only going to continue,” Mauger said. “Technology has obviously allowed campaigns to target people better in terms of their donations, but it’s also allowed them to have these platforms where they can very effectively reach people.”

A handful of Michigan donors have already given Trump $5,600, the maximum allowed for both the primary and general election season. They include former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Ron Weiser and his wife, Eileen, businessman Matthew Moroun and real estate developer Harold Beznos of Farmington.

Trump’s filing shows his campaign spent more than $53,000 on a raucous Grand Rapids rally this spring that drew more than 10,000 supporters. Expenses included $21,023 to rent the Van Andel Arena and nearly $32,000 on rental equipment from Chase Creative Unlimited in Wyoming.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who raised $2,170 from Michigan donors last quarter, recently ran a small series of TV ads in Michigan as she campaigned in Oakland County, Flint and Lansing.

But more aggressive ad spending is likely to happen closer to the state’s March 10 primary, according to Mauger.

“I think this is shaping up to be a year where the TV stations are going to be very excited about the amount of money they’re making early in the election year,” he said.

“I hate to make predictions, but it seems very difficult to come up where Michigan does not see much more advertising than it did in 2016 in the presidential.”

How Michigan candidates compare

Second-quarter itemized contributions from Michigan donors, by candidate:

Donald Trump  $412,395.60

Pete Buttigieg  $199,184.90

Bernie Sanders $128,299.50

Elizabeth Warren  $109,206.60

Kamala Harris $82,726

Joe Biden $68,061.54

Cory Booker $21,079

Marianne Williamson $14,402.37

Beto O’Rourke $11,436.19

Amy Klobuchar $11,175.24

Tulsi Gabbard $9,493.56

Michael Bennet $8,778

Andrew Yang $8,137.43

Jay Inslee $3,435

Julian Castro $2,953

Seth Moulton $2,240.20

Kirsten Gillibrand $2,170

John Hickenlooper $2,025

Mike Gravel $300

Source: Federal Election Commission