Opinion

Could a long, crowded and expensive primary hurt Democrats’ chances this year?

Judging by the huge sums of money Americans are forking over to politicians this cycle, they are very much into the 2020 presidential cycle, even before any primary votes are cast or counted.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee are raising sums of money that sound like lottery prizes: $143 million in 2019. House Democrats’ drive to impeach the Republican president ignited his supporters’ fervor to the tune of $46 million in just 12 weeks.

Democratic strategists claim their large field’s combined fourth-quarter total of $118 million shows the latent party enthusiasm to evict Trump from the White House. But that’s spread among a dozen competitors, while Trump sits on $102.7 million in the bank, roughly $20 million more than Barack Obama had at this point in his successful 2012 reelection effort.

No one noticed, but the once-immense field of Democratic presidential wannabes shrank the other day when the lone Latino, Julian Castro, gave up, with Marianne Williamson soon to follow and Cory Booker’s exit still to come.

As the Iowa caucuses loom on Feb. 3, the remaining contenders are sucking up vast amounts of smaller donations, indicating grassroots enthusiasm but also fueling what could well be an extended and divisive campaign with more survivors fighting longer than usual.

Lengthy campaigns are great for candidate hopes and television revenues. But they seriously curtail the time left for Democrats to rally behind the actual nominee as he or she campaigns against a well-funded incumbent with a solid, loyal base.

Scaring Democratic party leaders is the latest $34.5 million take of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who, at 78, is the oldest candidate in either party. Not a bad haul for someone felled by a heart attack just three months ago. He’s refusing to temper his democratic socialist agenda, and he’s reaping the rewards in today’s very progressive Democratic Party.

Especially disturbing for the party’s establishment is that Sanders’ grassroots donor base is so broad that even giving such huge sums collectively, about 99% of them have yet to reach the individual donor limit of $2,800 for the primaries.

Joe Biden, who is 77, had his best fundraising quarter yet ($22.7 million), but still came in $12 million behind Sanders and $2 million short of the sum raised by Pete Buttigieg, the kid who’s half Biden’s age and who was unknown a year ago.

Reflecting her recent sag in the polls, Sen. Elizabeth Warren ($21.2 million) fell short of previous quarters’ success, while Andrew Yang — another unknown nobody with his own fortune — convinced supporters to hand over $16.5 million. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s strong debate performances brought her $11.4 million, twice what she previously had been raising every three months.

Normally, results in early states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina begin to thin the fields and to focus donations on creating real frontrunners among the survivors.

Biden leads in national polls, as he has since before he even announced in April. Of possible significance in Iowa polling: Biden is by far viewed as the least exciting of the bunch. However, he is also seen as the safest bet.

Polls in those early states show the threesome of Sanders, Buttigieg and Biden all vying for top spots. That means after four contests, the party could have three winners, all with enough money to keep going and, likely, more dollars coming in by then.

But wait! Then, Super Tuesday comes on March 3, when Democrats in 14 states from California to Texas to Virginia will pick 40% of the Milwaukee convention’s delegates. You might think those elections would sort things out. Maybe.

But wait some more! Latecomer mega-billionaire Michael Bloomberg has written off the early states, instead focusing on sneaking up on the others and attempting to buy Super Tuesday success by investing a couple hundred million dollars in those states with endless ads and hundreds of newly-hired staffers.

Another of the liberal old-timers, the 77-year-old Bloomberg cares not about donations. If he spends an unprecedented $500 million of his own money in his bid to become the first Jewish president, he’d still have around $54 billion left to buy giant Slurpees for retirement, win or lose.

No matter how long Democrats take to select their 2020 nominee to face a Republican incumbent, it can’t be as bad as their 1924 convention in New York. That year, it took Democrats two full weeks and 103 ballots to settle on John Davis. With that kind of enduring party divide, he went on to lose 35 of 48 states to a Republican incumbent.

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