Why Cory Booker’s presidential campaign could be toast if he doesn’t raise cash fast

Posted Sep 22, 2019

WASHINGTON — Every day, there’s been an air of desperation in Cory Booker’s fundraising emails.

“When we report our financial numbers publicly, we need to have a strong showing,” Booker’s presidential campaign manager, Addisu Demissie, wrote recently.

“I’m going to cut to the chase — we need a strong showing to prove that we’re in this until Election Day 2020, no matter the donor or polling thresholds that are thrown at us,” Booker himself wrote in another.

Then came this thunderbolt from Booker on Saturday: “The next 10 days will determine whether I have a path in this race. To be completely transparent with you, I’m only going to continue running if I see a clear path to victory.”

His urgent message was crystal clear. Booker needed backers to pony up $1.7 million by the end of the month, or his presidential campaign could be toast.

Without that infusion of cash, Demissie said, “we don’t believe we are going to be in a position to compete for the nomination."

The problem Booker’s campaign is facing is that his dismal showing to date in opinion polls — 2.8 percent, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average — makes it harder to raise the money. And without the money, it’s harder to move up in the polls.

“If you are polling in single digits and have another poor fundraising haul, as far as I am concerned it is time for you and your campaign to consider calling it quits,” said Democratic consultant Jim Manley, a former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

“With every passing fundraising reporting deadline, the stakes get higher, particularly for those candidates struggling to stay in the running,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “Success in fundraising inspires more donations. They need to show that they are gaining traction, not losing it.”

Even the Washington Post, which continues to list Booker as one of the five Democrats most likely to win the party’s nomination, said that his poor showing in polls makes “you wonder whether he’s raising the kinds of funds he needs to truly compete.”

So far, the answer is no.

“This quarter is an opportunity for him to change the narrative and demonstrate that there is support out there,” said Jonathan Mantz, national finance chair for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Without the money, he can’t get broad messaging out and pay the staff you need to get out the vote. Ultimately, you have to pay that staff.”

Booker raised $12.5 million through June 30, with $2.7 million of that coming from his U.S. Senate account.

That was not just behind Bernie Sanders ($46.3 million), Elizabeth Warren ($35.7 million) and Joe Biden ($22 million), but also Pete Buttigieg ($32.3 million), Kamala Harris ($25.1 million), Beto O’Rourke ($13 million) and Amy Klobuchar ($12.7 million).

Still, that has been enough for Booker to fund strong ground operations in the early primary and caucus states. He also has landed several key endorsements there as well, including 16 New Hampshire state lawmakers.

Political observers have said Booker’s state organizations put him a position to capitalize on any surge of support in the early primaries and caucuses. Just 9 percent of likely Democratic voters in the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey said they had firmly settled on a candidate.

Booker hasn’t seen any surges yet, however, despite his strong performances in all three debates. He is eighth place in the Real Clear Politics polling average and he hasn’t exceeded 3 percent support since April.

“The Booker lane to victory has largely been paved by his career, which has focused on bringing people together,” said Ben Dworkin, director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.

“So much of the Democratic Party primary electorate is fixing for a fight. The question for Booker is whether his message makes him the right man for the moment.”

And while Booker has qualified for the fourth debate in Westerville, Ohio, next month, continued lackluster poll numbers and fundraising could keep him off the stage after that if the Democratic National Committee again increases its thresholds.

Demissie insisted that the polls don’t show the support Booker truly has in the early states.

And a Booker supporter, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12th Dist., said she wanted to wait "for a primary or caucus or something of that nature, when people who are interested in voting and making a difference actually get to cast that vote in some way, shape or form.”

But two of the Democrats polling in September 2007 as low where Booker is now — Joe Biden with 3 percent and Chris Dodd with 1 percent — never got past the Iowa caucuses. And a third, Bill Richardson, who had 2 percent, dropped out after New Hampshire.

Without a strong fundraising haul this month, Booker may be forced into a different role next year, Democratic consultant Antjuan Seawright said.

“Cory has been a tremendous asset to this field," Seawright said. "If he’s not in this race, he will be on everyone’s short list for VP and will play a tremendous role in helping to shape what the party looks like going forward.”

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