Bernie Sanders may dominate the small-dollar-donor battlefield on the Democratic side of the presidential race, but he’s not the only one growing a list of grassroots supporters. We talked earlier about Hillary Clinton’s messages designed to start people on the small-giving track, and her recent emails talk up the 850,000 people who’ve donated so far.
Of course, Sanders has racked up roughly FIVE MILLION individual donations to date, the vast majority under $100 (he outraised Clinton by $13 million in February alone). But his route to a potential nomination looks troubled at best, since no matter how much he can spent on TV ads and digital organizing, he has yet to break out of his demographic box and attract voters from the full sweep of the Democratic coalition.
Even if Clinton builds up a lead in delegate count that guarantees victory, a small-donor base is still a significant asset for her campaign. She’ll still have to push vigorously against Sanders until the (hopefully not too bitter) end, but perhaps more importantly, she’ll need to fend off attacks from Republicans over the summer — and to mount her own in return.
To stay competitive, or to launch the kind of preemptive ad blitz that helped Obama define Romney’s campaign negatively once the primaries were over in 2008, she’s going to need money. And even if she’s the presumptive nominee, she won’t be able to touch general-election money until AFTER the Democratic convention. By then, her big donors will have long ago maxed out, having reached the FEC limit on contributions to a candidate during the primary season. By contrast, half of her February donors were online (a percentage that still sounds too small, btw), with an average gift under $50.
By creating a list of small donors (and perhaps asking for a little help from Sanders once their rivalry is over?), Hillary avoid a financially driven unilateral ceasefire through the dog days of summer. Watch for her grassroots supporters to keep the ads flowing and the staff on the ground in June, July and August — she’s building now for the fights sure to come.