Independent presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the We the People Membership Summit, featuring the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, at the Warner Theater, in Washington, Monday, April 1, 2019.
Independent presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the We the People Membership Summit, featuring the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, at the Warner Theater, in Washington, Monday, April 1, 2019.

A handful of Democratic presidential candidates are touting the amount of money they’ve raised in the first fundraising period of a 2020 primary fight that will last into next spring. The totals for the first quarter, which ran through March 31, are the first measure of how candidates are faring.

Details for the entire field won’t be known until candidates file their required disclosures with the Federal Election Commission by April 15, but here are some takeaways from what the campaigns have released so far:

BERNIE REALLY IS A FRONT-RUNNER

Bernie Sanders joins former Vice President Joe Biden atop many polls of prospective Democratic primary voters. But Sanders has something Biden doesn’t have (yet): a campaign operation raking in cash.

Independent presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during the We the People Membership Summit, featuring the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, at the Warner Theater in Washington, April 1, 2019.
Bernie Sanders Raises $18.2M for White House Run, Takes Fundraising Lead
Presidential contender Bernie Sanders raised $18.2 million in the first three months of the year for his 2020 White House bid, his campaign said on Tuesday, giving him an early fundraising lead in a crowded Democratic primary field. Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont making his second run for the White House, received 900,000 donations from 525,000 individual donors with the vast majority under age 39, campaign manager Faiz Shakir told reporters. The average donation was $20. About 20 percent of…

The senator from Vermont, who showed surprising fundraising heft in his upstart challenge to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton four years ago, raised more than $18 million in the 41 days between his official campaign launch and March 31, giving him $28 million cash on hand.

Those totals are expected to lead the Democratic field, putting pressure on other heavyweights, including Biden, who is still deciding whether to run and who is navigating accusations that he’s acted inappropriately toward women.

Besides Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris of California put up an impressive $12 million haul. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas didn’t offer a fundraising total Tuesday, but aides said he raised more than $1 million over the weekend and previously said he raised more than $6 million in his first 24 hours as a candidate.

Sanders’ haul shows that his base is just as enthusiastic as it was four years ago. In fact, it may be growing. The senator’s campaign noted that of his 525,000 unique donors, about 20% are new, about 100,000 are registered independents and about 20,000 are registered Republicans.

As impressive as Sanders’ fundraising has been, it’s not as large as previous presidential contenders who were more reliant on big donors.

In her first quarter as a candidate ahead of 2016, Clinton topped $45 million. In 2007, when then-Sen. Barack Obama and Clinton were beginning their long battle for the 2008 nomination, the favored Clinton opened with an initial fundraising quarter of $36 million, while the underdog Obama pulled in $26 million.

EXPECTATIONS GAME: MAYOR PETE WINS

Sanders’ fundraising haul set the curve for all candidates and will give pause to some of the other perceived heavyweights in the field, particularly his fellow senators Harris, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. (Harris is the only candidate of that group to release her fundraising totals.)

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters in Memphis, Tennessee, March 17, 2019.
2020 by the Numbers: Democrats Posting Big Campaign Stats
How many ways can you measure the first quarter of the year? For Democratic presidential candidates, it's 300-plus events, 24 states and hundreds of voter questions.The Iowa caucus is still 10 months away, but the Democratic primary campaign is already an all-out sprint — passing eye-popping markers for campaign activity and voter engagement.

But the biggest winner may be Pete Buttigieg, an unlikely headline-grabber even among a group of lesser-known candidates that includes governors and members of Congress.

The 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, raised $7 million, calling it “a great look for our first quarter.” That might be an understatement.

Such a sum ensures Buttigieg can finance a legitimate campaign operation for months as long as he’s not a profligate spender. (Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker learned in the 2015-16 Republican presidential campaign that being an early fundraising leader is no guarantee of success; he spent big, ran out of money and dropped out before the Iowa caucuses.)

Just as important as the bottom line: Buttigieg said he has almost 160,000 unique donors, a mark that meets the new grassroots fundraising thresholds that the Democratic National Committee has set for candidates to qualify for the initial summer debates.

SMALL DONORS RULE THE DAY

It’s a new day in Democratic politics, with small donors carrying the day.

Sanders touts that he’s held zero traditional fundraisers and has an average donation of $20 — less than 1% of the $2800 maximum. Sanders’ campaign says the senator got 88% of his money from donors who contributed $200 or less.

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg greets voters during a campaign stop at Portsmouth Gas Light, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, March 8, 2019.
2020 Hopeful Buttigieg Raises $7 Million in 1st Quarter
US presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg, unknown to most Americans just weeks ago, announced Monday that his campaign raised $7 million in the opening months of 2019.He was the first in the Democratic field to reveal fundraising totals. Though not expected to be the largest haul, it suggests impressive momentum for a second-tier candidate who is battling to raise his profile.

Buttigieg said his average contribution is about $36, with 64% of his total coming from those donating $200 or less. Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur who’s never held political office, has raised just $1.7 million, but his campaign says it’s come from about 80,000 donors averaging less than $18 per contribution.

This shift largely reflects politicians reacting to a progressive base that looks with suspicion and distrust on big-money donors.

For example, Warren is among the perceived favorites in the field but has promised she’ll be financing her campaign without leaning on traditional donors.

In this March 9, 2019, photo, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during an event in St. George, South Carolina.
Kamala Harris Eyes Reform as Candidate, Was Cautious as Prosecutor
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Harris isn’t eschewing high-dollar fundraisers. In a recent stop in Atlanta, she held one small-dollar event but also a high-dollar gathering sponsored by bundlers who’d pulled together at least $28,000 for her campaign. Yet when her campaign aides released fundraising totals for the first quarter, it wasn’t the big checks they touted. Rather, they emphasized that 98% percent of her contributors gave less than $100.

Gordon Giffin, a former Canadian ambassador under President Bill Clinton, recently hosted a fundraiser for Klobuchar in his metro Atlanta home. Traditional fundraising isn’t going away, Giffin said in a recent interview, “but that grassroots money can more than make up for it, and candidates have to prove they can do that.”