It was shocking news for many Democrats – Sen. Cory Booker saying last weekend that if his campaign didn’t raise $1.7 million by the end of the month, he’d likely end his bid for the presidential nomination.
Pointing out how he’s fallen behind the top-tier contenders when it comes to fundraising, Booker reiterated to reporters on Thursday, “We’re not going to be able to stay in competition with them unless we raise significant money.”
He continued, “If there’s no way to win this election, why should I be in it?”
While Booker's comments were startling considering he'd been seen as a rising party star before the campaign began, they also reflected the harsh reality of this phase of the campaign. Booker and the rest of the contenders in the record-setting field of 2020 candidates face two key deadlines this week that could further shrink the field in the coming days and weeks.
First is the close of the July-September fundraising quarter, which is just a day away. Two days later – on Oct. 2 – is the deadline for the presidential candidates to reach the thresholds to qualify for October’s primary debate. Poor fundraising figures and a failure to reach the prime-time debate stage could force many of the lower-tier White House contenders to seriously contemplate calling it quits.
“It’s a double whammy,” veteran political scientist and longtime presidential primary observer Dante Scala noted.
“One, if their third-quarter fundraising numbers are disappointing, that’s going to be news. That’s going to set off a warning siren in the media that a death watch will begin. And then, if you add to that not being on the debate stage, the sirens will only get louder,” said Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire.
For Booker, he appears poised to make the next debate stage, and his frank talk on fundraising certainly served to shake loose some campaign donations in the ensuing days.
But, veteran Democratic consultant Lynda Tran said the news that Booker, “who has long been seen as a star in the party, and who has been at various times at the bottom of the top tier of contenders, is seriously considering ending his campaign if his fundraising numbers don't come up substantially, is a pretty clear sign of the state of the race.”
The field of Democrats – which at one point this summer reached roughly two-dozen candidates – started shrinking in July and August as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado, and Reps. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Eric Swalwell of California ended their White House bids. A week ago, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped out.
All of those candidates were struggling to gain traction and to raise campaign cash, and faced steep uphill climbs to qualify for the autumn debates.
For those still in the race who clearly won’t make the stage at next month’s debate, qualifying for the November showdown will get even tougher, as the Democratic National Committee has raised the thresholds for the fifth-round debate.
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro qualified for both the September and October showdowns, but he’s still struggling to haul in campaign cash and pop in the polls.
“I don’t say this lightly: If I don’t make the next debate stage, it will be the end of my campaign,” he warned in a fundraising email to supporters on Thursday.
The double deadlines come with four months to go until voting begins in the Iowa caucuses, the first contest in the presidential nominating calendar.
“In some ways, it is early yet. There are plenty of days left on the calendar for the candidates to get in front of voters and promote their ideas and vision for leading the nation,” noted Tran, who ran communications for the Obama-era grassroots group Organizing for America and was a founding partner of the communications firm 270 Strategies.
But, she pointed out that “the historically expansive field and a White House that continually dominates headlines with its churn, chaos, and corruption means there is simply less oxygen in the room for each individual vying for the presidency.”
Tran spoke with Fox News days before House Democrats formally launched their impeachment inquiry into the president over the Ukraine controversy. The news has largely overshadowed the presidential race ever since.