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Fundraising Downers Don't Portend Well For Many Campaigns

Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday in Las Vegas.
John Locher
Former Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee speaks during the CNN Democratic presidential debate Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Fundraising is one of the most concrete indicators we have of whether campaigns are catching fire and how well they're allocating their funds — and for several White House hopefuls, the news isn't good.

Among the standouts from the newly released third-quarter fundraising numbers, there are some sober truths to be derived for several candidates — your campaign is on life support. Here are some hopefuls who should be very, very worried.

Lincoln Chafee

No one did worse at fundraising this quarter than the former Rhode Island governor. Fresh off a poor and sometimes puzzling performance in Tuesday night's debate, the former Republican turned Independent turned Democrat needed some good news. Instead, his fundraising was downright dismal.

Chafee pulled in a paltry $14,548 during the past three months — and no, we didn't leave a zero off of that. He did better, but still not great, in the second quarter, raising $392,000. Thanks to his frugal spending, the good news is that he does still have $284,000 in the bank, which can go a long way if you're running a shoestring campaign.

Still, his overall fundraising haul would be an abysmal number for a congressional candidate — or even a state legislative candidate or a city council hopeful in a major city. But for a presidential candidate, it's beyond embarrassing. Chafee gave little rationale Tuesday night for why he's even a candidate, and it appears donors don't see one either.

George Pataki

The former New York governor had the next lowest total among all the candidates, raising just $153,514 — about $100,000 less than what he raised last quarter. But his much higher burn rate leaves him with just $13,000 in the bank. Pataki has registered enough to make it into the Oct. 28 GOP debate, but will still be relegated to the "kiddie table." Still, that's only because he registered 1 percent in at least one national poll — so neither his polling nor his fundraising shows much momentum.

Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee

The former Pennsylvania senator and the former Arkansas governor were the 2012 and 2008 runners-up, respectively. But in a far more crowded field, and one that's been dominated by Donald Trump and the rise of outsiders, neither is having any movement in the polls or in his bank accounts.

Santorum, who's on pace to be relegated to his third lower-tier debate at the end of this month, took in just $387,000 — just over half of his second-quarter haul. And he has only $226,000 still in the bank.

Huckabee did better with $1.2 million raised, but it's down from his $2 million last quarter and still isn't the kind of eye-popping total you need for momentum. He has $761,000 still on hand.

In context, how bad were their hauls? Both were outraised on the Democratic side by former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb, who raised nearly $700,000.

Martin O'Malley

Want to know how big the gulf is between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders down to the former Maryland governor? About $25 million, to be exact.

The discrepancy in polling combined with such a chasm in fundraising don't bode well for O'Malley. He had a solid debate performance on Tuesday, but didn't deliver a knockout blow or change the trajectory. If anything, the debate reinforced it's really a two-person race, hammered home by strong fundraising from both Democratic front-runners.

Bobby Jindal

The Louisiana governor's campaign has pointed to momentum in Iowa — where he's tied for a distant fifth in the most recent polls — but his latest fundraising haul doesn't show much to smile about. He raised $579,000 last quarter, about the same as his second-quarter haul. And he has just $260,000 in the bank — he'll need to find a way to make that last, which could be hard if he wants to make a serious push in Iowa.

Rand Paul

Yes, the Kentucky senator's $2.5 million haul is more than anyone else on this list. But that's someone who was supposed to be a top-tier challenger — and is now having to explain why he's not getting out of the race. In a campaign memo on Thursday, Paul's campaign wrote that the senator "currently has over $2 million cash-on-hand and is running a lean campaign heavy on organization and light on expensive advertising. [Paul] has the financial resources to continue indefinitely and will keep racking up wins once the voting begins." But, despite that argument, he still spent more than he raised — $4.5 million — and has $2.1 million in the bank.

Paul also has more to lose than other candidates, with trying to simultaneously run a Senate re-election bid at home as well. And, as the Washington Post noted, Paul also transferred $57,000 from his Senate account to his presidential account — money he can't transfer back, either.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.