Bernie Sanders leads Dem rivals in Wisconsin fundraising

By: - August 16, 2019 6:36 am

Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a crowd of about 4,400 people gathered for a political campaign rally at the Kohl Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on April 3, 2016, two days before the Wisconsin presidential primary. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Wisconsin Democrats aren’t giving up on Bernie Sanders. 

The Vermont senator, who won the state’s Democratic presidential primary back in 2016, has raked in more campaign contributions from Wisconsin than any other Democratic candidate, according to the most recent campaign finance filings. That total includes itemized contributions from donors giving more than $200 and can also include smaller donations. 

Sanders has raised about $117,000 from 467 individual Wisconsin donors this cycle, according to the financial reports that tally donations through the end of June. The second-place Democratic fundraiser in the state, Elizabeth Warren, has raised about $91,000 from 217 unique donors.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Sanders’ donors include a welder from Eau Claire, a bus driver from Wausau, a psychologist/astrologer from Arena, a locksmith from Menomonee Falls, an attorney from Wauwatosa, a merchant seaman from Appleton, and others. 

His strong fundraising numbers in Wisconsin reflect his popularity with Democratic donors nationwide. He’s raised a total of about about $46 million this cycle — more than any other Democratic presidential candidate. 

“I am not surprised that Bernie Sanders has raised more money here than any of the other candidates,” said Joe Zepecki, a Democratic strategist who was the top communications official Wisconsin for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. 

“He is a known commodity who has had strong support here in the past,” he said of Sanders. “I think the authenticity of his message goes a long way with Wisconsin progressives who have long been concerned about income inequality, about the growing wealth gap. This is a guy who has been singing that song for years.”

Sanders comfortably defeated Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin’s Democratic presidential primary in April 2016, his sixth consecutive win that spring, which was seen at the time as a huge boost for his underdog campaign.

Wisconsin doesn’t hold its presidential primary until April 7, 2020. That’s after the critical early-state primaries in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and after Super Tuesday in early March, which will allocate about 40% of delegates and is seen as a critical national test. 

Still, Wisconsin could play a major role in 2020 if the fight for the nomination remains close. 

Zepecki said it’s possible that Wisconsin’s primary could be “do or die” for Democrats who are still in the race at that point. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if candidates still trying to make an argument that they can beat President Trump use the Wisconsin primary to make an “electability argument.” 

Trump won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes in 2016 by less than one percentage point. It was the first time the state voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984. 

Since his failed 2016 White House bid, Sanders has continued to spend time in the Badger State. 

In July 2018, he stopped in Wisconsin to campaign with Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and with Randy Bryce, a Democrat who was running for the 1st District seat vacated by former Republican Rep. Paul Ryan. 

This April, Sanders campaigned in Madison as part of a swing through midwestern states that voted for Trump in 2016, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. 

“I want to emphasize what this campaign is about is not just winning the Democratic nomination,” Sanders said then. “It is not just defeating Donald Trump, the most dangerous president in modern American history. But it is about all of us — not me, us — transforming this country.”

In July, Sanders attended a town hall for presidential candidates in Milwaukee before meeting with local activists, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the problems facing Milwaukee and what a progressive president can do to help cities in distress,” Sanders told the newspaper. 

Sanders has a “hard core, loyal base,” in the state, said Scott Klug, a former Republican congressman who represented Madison in the U.S. House during the 1990s. 

The Vermont senator probably has a “residual fundraising base” from his 2016 presidential bid, added Klug, who’s now public affairs director at the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP. “I”m not sure how much that sticks once everyone starts coming through here.” 

It’s also unclear whether Sanders’ financial support in Wisconsin and other states will translate into votes. 

Sanders has the support of about 20% of Democratic primary voters nationwide, according to a Morning Consult poll released Monday. He’s lagging behind former Vice President Joe Biden (33%), but he’s polling ahead of Warren (14%) and California Sen. Kamala Harris (9%). 

Meanwhile, Trump’s fundraising in Wisconsin has outpaced all the Democratic candidates in the state. The president raised about $739,000 from Wisconsin donors so far during the 2020 campaign cycle. Trump raised about $57 million nationally in the first six months of this year. 

Wisconsin’s 2020 donations

Here’s how much Trump and the 20 Democratic presidential hopefuls who appeared in the most recent televised debates have received from Wisconsin donors so far this election cycle. The numbers include data through June 30 and include only the donations itemized in the campaigns’ filings, which likely exclude some small donations. 

President Trump: $738,559.82

Bernie Sanders: $117,489.59

Elizabeth Warren: $91,408.90

Pete Buttigieg: $55,595.05

Amy Klobuchar: $47,417.63

Kamala Harris: $40,941.17

Joe Biden: $22,064.54

Andrew Yang: $11,352.10

Cory Booker: $8,374.43

Beto O’Rourke: $7,044.23

Jay Inslee: $6,970.60

Tulsi Gabbard: $3,158.03

Marianne Williamson: $3,143.97

Steve Bullock: $2,800.00

Tim Ryan: $2,500.00

Kirsten Gillibrand: $1,888.00

Michael Bennet: $1,401.00

Julian Castro: $1,370.75

John Delaney: $1,305.00

John Hickenlooper: $250.00

Bill DeBlasio: $0.00


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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.