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Joe Biden’s Fundraising Numbers Raise Questions for His Campaign

6 minute read

Joe Biden’s presidential bid is not raising enough money to cover the cost of his day-to-day campaign, a surprising turn for someone who entered the race for his Democratic Party’s nomination as the front-runner.

Biden’s fundraising and spending numbers, which were filed by Federal Election Commission late Tuesday, calls into question whether the former Vice President can continue to lead a crowded field of candidates that includes leaders more aligned with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Biden retains all of the advantages of almost five decades in politics, but there is also a sense after Tuesday night’s debate that rival — and fellow septuagenarian — Elizabeth Warren is nudging him from center stage.

Biden is hardly alone in having to dip into savings between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to the FEC reports filed late Tuesday as a dozen Democrats were debating in Westerville, Ohio. In fact, twice as many Democrats raided the kitty as broke even during the third quarter of the year, typically the toughest period of any campaign’s fundraising.

Biden raised $15.7 million last quarter, spent $17.7 million and has about $9 million in the bank, according to the reports. In other words, for every $1 the campaign raised, it spent $1.12. If he continues to spend his third-quarter average of roughly $196,120 a day and continues to raise $174,904 each day, he can grind out until Election Day. But his future finances get ugly if he wants to build beyond the current footprint.

That rate of spending leaves Biden with a campaign nest egg smaller than Bernie Sanders ($33.7 million), Warren ($25.7 million), Pete Buttigieg ($23.4 million) and Kamala Harris ($10.6 million).

Biden campaign officials say they aren’t worried. They spent heavily to build a political machine to win: “We’ve always said we think this race is going to be a dogfight, that it’s going to go long. We’re building an operation that is going to be sustained,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told reporters after Tuesday night’s debate. “We are 100% confident that we have what need to run our race.”

Still, the high rate of spending is something that rival campaigns were quick to note.

Biden advisers retorted that they were not alone in being underwater with spending: Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Tulsi Gabbard and Julián Castro all dipped into savings to cover the costs of the campaign. Gabbard spent $1.10 for every buck she brought in, while Klobuchar had a $1.63-spent-to-$1-raised ratio.(Billionaire Tom Steyer covered $47.5 million in campaign costs out-of-pocket last quarter so he technically was not underwater.)

The only candidates on stage Tuesday night who covered the costs of their campaigns through donors while adding to their war chests were Buttigieg, Warren, Sanders and Andrew Yang. Each is a star on digital fundraising and with small-dollar donors, whereas Biden is not and spends a lot of his calendar at high-dollar events.

But the revelation is about more than dollars and cents. It speaks to Biden’s status as a co-frontrunner with Warren. At Tuesday’s debate, Warren seemed to emerge as the candidate-to-beat. “She could continue to talk about big, structural reform. That’s what Americans want to hear about,” says Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts, who backs Warren. “And she did it without ever insulting another Democrat. That says something for the positive nature of this campaign and the optimism that we feel about it.”

Warren has been spending heavily to build an organization that can turn out caucus-goers in Iowa and voters in New Hampshire. Rival campaigns say she has the strongest ground-game in both states, and her campaign has a strong foundation in Nevada. Plus, she can afford it. In what is typically a summer lull, the Massachusetts Senator raised almost $24.7 million. (In comparison, Hillary Clinton in 2015 raised almost $30 million in the same third quarter that four years later saw Biden raise less than $16 million.)

Those less-than-inspiring fundraising figures come on heels of other setbacks for Biden. President Trump’s allegations, asserted without evidence, that Hunter Biden enjoyed ill-gained profits in Ukraine and China while his father was Vice President received fresh attention just after the period covered in this fundraising report.

Biden insiders dismiss the criticism and say it’s only drawing voters — and donors — to rally around Biden as the strongest challenger to Trump. “The President’s attacks on Hunter are baseless and are smears,” says Chris Coons, a Senator from Delaware and a Biden family adviser. “If someone else winds up being the nominee of the Democratic Party, they will face comparable, baseless smears.”

Hunter Biden tried to quiet the attacks on himself and his father in an interview with ABC News that aired on Tuesday, hours before the debate in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. Biden advisers said Hunter Biden made the decision on his own to defend his family, and that he didn’t discuss it with the former Vice President. In the interview, the younger Biden admitted it was a mistake to serve on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while his dad was in the White House.

Trump has pressed Ukrainian officials to open a corruption probe into Hunter Biden. Critics say the move invites foreign interference into a domestic election.

Hunter Biden’s interview did little to quell the unfounded speculation at the White House, but his admission that “I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden” left some Democrats cringing and conservative media pouncing.

Top Biden officials are confident that the story will not challenge Democratic voters’ affinity for the former Vice President because the questions about Hunter Biden’s business deals are “asked and answered a hundred times,” said Bedingfield, the campaign’s second-in-command who also serves as its communications director. “Democratic voters know that these lies are not getting traction and it’s is not the conversation they want to hear.”

Biden’s polling, which has not slipped in recent weeks, indicates this is the case. But voters also said they didn’t care about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address in 2016, yet she never fully escaped suspicion about it, even after the Department of Justice declined to prosecute her.

Another top Biden hand, senior adviser Symone Sanders, argued that Trump’s efforts to draw attention to Hunter Biden would only hurt President Trump.

“In a Biden White House, unlike in a Donald Trump White House, Vice President Biden’s children will not have offices in the West Wing, they will not sit in on Cabinet meetings as though they are high-ranking elected officials, and they won’t have any foreign business deals,” Sanders said, dinging the President’s children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law Jared Kusher. “Donald Trump cannot say that.”

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Write to Philip Elliott / Westerville, Ohio at philip.elliott@time.com