The third quarter fundraising period for presidential campaigns is over, having closed Wednesday. Detailed numbers won’t be publicly available until later this week, but campaigns are free to report their results at any time. More than any other candidate, Jeb Bush needs to report a strong fundraising quarter to quell growing doubts about his campaign.
While Jeb Bush grabbed media headlines with the announcement that his affiliated Super PAC had raised more than $100 million in the second quarter, contributions to his individual campaign were a more modest $11 million. That number put him just ahead of Ben Carson, but behind Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.
While Bush’s rich Super PAC can certainly help his candidacy by running ads and conducting voter education, campaigns still need sufficient resources in their individual campaign accounts to pay staff and underwrite large field and voter contact operations.
The Bush campaign is exploring new campaign territory and hopes to outsource many traditional campaign functions to its allied Super PAC. A rapidly changing political landscape and strict prohibitions on coordination between the campaign and the Super PAC make that a very risky strategy.
Setting aside campaign logistics, though, Bush needs a big fundraising quarter to steady the nerves of his biggest supporters. Throughout the Summer, Bush ceded precious support to outsider candidates and other, more attractive campaigners.
Beginning the campaign in the top tier of candidates, if not the frontrunner position itself, Bush enters the Fall campaign stretch far back in national polls. Unimpressive performances in two national debates and a series of misstatements have raised serious questions about his readiness for a grueling campaign against the Democrats.
On Monday, the New York Times reported that the Bush campaign was considering how best to use Jeb’s brother, former President George W. Bush, to shore up support in South Carolina, the first southern state to cast ballots in the primary. Relying on his brother to help his campaign is not how Jeb Bush planned to conduct his campaign.
At the end of September, Breitbart News reported that Jeb Bush was relying increasingly on both his brother and his father, former President George H. W. Bush, to host fundraisers for his campaign. These tactics undercut Jeb’s often repeated line that he is his “own man.”
Jeb needs a strong third quarter fundraising report, not necessarily because he needs the resources, but to assure supporters that he actually has a base of support among primary voters. More than 80 percent of his donations to his campaign in the second quarter came from contributors who had “maxed out,” i.e. given the $2,700 federal limit for individuals.
The support Bush received in the second quarter, then, is tapped out. Jeb needs to bring new donors into his campaign to report significant new fundraising for the three months just ended.
Immediately after the fundraising period ended, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson’s campaign reported it had raised $20 million over the Summer. The campaign of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul leaked that it had raised just $2.5 million in the quarter, a result certainly consistent with Paul’s declining support in the polls.
Sources close to the Ted Cruz campaign told Breitbart News that the conservative favorite raised around $14-15 million last quarter, matching his fundraising in the second quarter.
No other GOP campaigns have reported or leaked their fundraising numbers for the third quarter. The summer months are traditionally difficult for fundraising, but the Republican nomination fight has been much more active than years past. It is still telling, however, that campaigns are being tight-lipped about their fundraising.
The loudest silence, though, is from the Bush campaign. Having been knocked off his perch as the presumed frontrunner, Jeb faces enormous pressure to show that his campaign has the support to contest the nomination deep into the primary voting. He has by far the largest and most experienced campaign staff and he has deep contacts throughout the Republican party across the nation.
On paper, Bush should be able to post very strong fundraising numbers. He ought to be able to keep pace with Cruz and Carson. At a bare minimum, he needs to match his fundraising haul from the 2nd quarter. Even that, though, would be the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
If Bush fall short of his second quarter fundraising, it will be the latest sign that his campaign is going nowhere.