Fuzzy math: Democrats spend big to draw small-dollar donors

Associated Press


Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was told how he could qualify for the next presidential debate, but it didn’t make much sense: Spend $60. Attract a $1 donor. And repeat, maybe thousands of times.

“You spend $60 on Facebook right now to get a $1 donor,” Bullock said last week while campaigning in Iowa, referring to the 130,000 donor threshold that is one of the requirements to reach the debate stage in Houston next month. “I don’t know if I’ll make the threshold.”

He’s not alone. Facing a Wednesday deadline, a handful of Democratic White House hopefuls are racing against time – and odds – to qualify, trying desperately to meet the donor targets as well as reaching 2 percent in four approved public opinion polls.

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is pumping millions into online and TV advertising. Billionaire climate change activist Tom Steyer, a late entry to the race, has also spent $3.8 million on Facebook ads trying to boost his name recognition and rapidly add donors.

Others simply gave up – or dropped out.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan has acknowledged he won’t qualify for the September debate in Houston, but has no plans to end his presidential bid.

He’s been critical of the process that requires candidates to have at least 130,000 unique donors, with a minimum of 400 different donors from at least 20 states, and at least 2 percent support in four qualifying polls from June 28 to today.

Ryan, of Howland, D-13th, reported about 13,000 donors as of July 30. It’s grown, but is not close to 130,000. Also, he hasn’t polled at 2 percent in any qualifying poll since June 28.

Meanwhile, Ryan received the endorsements Tuesday of three people in South Carolina: the Rev. Caesar Richburg, senior pastor at Bethel AME Church in Columbia; George C. Bradley, former president of Paine College; and Tina Marshall-Bradley, academic coordinator in the master of science in education program in the Riley College of Education and Leadership at Walden University, all who previously campaigned for former vice president Joe Biden.

In a still-crowded Democratic field, with time running out to break into the top tier of candidates, not qualifying for the debate could doom several candidacies. Still, many have vowed to forge on, hoping that they can reach the requirements before the following debate in October.

Though earlier debates had lower floors, the Democratic National Committee upped the stakes for the coming two. As of now, 10 candidates have reached the qualifying thresholds on donors and polling.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton all recently ended their campaigns as they struggled to qualify. Last quarter, Inslee spent more than the $3 million he raised, much of it funneled into Facebook ads, pleading for donors. He hit the donor mark, but lagged in polling and dropped out last week.

Other than Steyer, no one has spent more than Gillibrand to qualify. She’s struggled since entering the race to gain traction and is keeping her campaign afloat with a $9.6 million transfer from her Senate campaign fund.

Contributor: Vindicator reporter David Skolnick