By Ben Christopher, CalMatters
While California Sen. Kamala Harris has harvested more than $7.5 million here this year in her bid for the presidency, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, outraised her in her own state in the year’s second quarter.
Even so, she bested Mayor Pete Buttigieg in California dollars in the past month. A sharp dip in his statewide fundraising numbers in June could suggest that the multilingual Millennial mayor may have reached the end of his honeymoon in California, despite the fact that his fundraising numbers nationwide remained robust.
Also worth noting: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders actually “won” more California zip codes than any other candidate—albeit with smaller donations.
That’s according to the latest batch of figures out from the Federal Election Committee. Every three months, the commission publishes a list of itemized donations—political contributions from any California donors who have given at least $200 a year.
We still may be more than 16 months—yes, that’s 476 days—before election day in November 2020, but this year Californians have thrown more than $26 million at the two dozen candidates hoping to win the Democratic nomination and take on President Donald Trump.
What else do the numbers tell us?
In short: the race for money largely mirror the polls, showing that California’s donor class is gravitating toward the top five candidates. Harris, Buttigieg, Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have all jockeyed in both state and national surveys for the top spots. Together, all five have taken home more than 71% of California’s itemized donations in 2019.
Money may not count for everything in politics (just ask Jeb Bush, who spent $130 million in his run for president in 2016).
But about a year out from the deadline for the Democrats to choose their presidential ticket, a boatload of cash is necessary to keep contenders in the game. It’s even essential to make it into the next debate. This week, the Democratic National Committee will announce who will have made the cut for the next televised face-off, on July 30. One way to qualify: Garner donations from at least 65,000 people (with at least 200 from each state).
And now that California comes early in the primary pecking order with its moved-up March 3 primary, early financial success here could be an important indicator of who will make it through that Super Tuesday.
No surprise, the top fundraisers in California did particularly well in the biggest-giving (that is, the richest) zip codes in the state.
Harris and Buttigieg both saw big infusions from the tonier neighborhoods of Los Angeles and the Bay Area, with Harris, the former district attorney of San Francisco, doing particularly well in her former city’s mansion-festooned Pacific and Presidio Heights. Buttigieg had a strong showing in West Hollywood, which is high-income and also has a large LGBTQ community that might have particular enthusiasm for the first major candidate who is gay.
The top ten zip codes by total donations account for nearly 18% of all of California’s itemized donations this year so far.
Sanders, who did well in many rural swaths of the state in the 2016 primary, was the top fundraiser in more of California’s zip codes than any other candidate. By that measure, he led in 443 zip codes, beating out Harris’ count of 419 and Buttigieg’s 167.
The average Buttigieg donation was $418, and the average Harris donation was $371, while the average Sanders contribution was $66. In other words, Sanders may have been the most popular candidate in the largest number of neighborhoods across California—just not among big donors or in the neighborhoods where big donors tend to live.
As the top collector of itemized California cash in the past quarter, Buttigieg raised roughly $3 million here in April and May, taking a massive bite out of what had been a commanding financial lead for Harris. But as of June, that monthly haul has been cut in half. That may be thanks in part to some less than flattering coverage of the mayor, who was criticized last month for his handling of a police shooting in his hometown, and to her standout performance in the first televised debate.
Though Buttigieg’s California infusion from June still amounts to more than what Sanders and Warren received last month, both saw their contributions from California nearly double from May to June.
And while Beto O’Rourke, the former Congressman from Texas who nearly defeated Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2018 Senate race, was clearly the flavor of the month in March, his popularity has been melting ever since.
Curious how the candidates are crafting their pitch for California voters? Read more here.
CalMatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.