Men with vague ideas are outraising women with plans in the Democratic 2020 race

O’Rourke gets a lift.
O’Rourke gets a lift.
Image: Reuters/Loren Elliott
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Beto O’Rourke raised $6.1 million in the 24 hours after he announced he was joining the 2020 presidential race, edging out Bernie Sanders for the highest one-day total announced so far by any Democratic candidate.

Only four candidates in the crowded field of Democrats have said how much money they have raised upon initiating their run. (The one-day total from a fifth candidate, Elizabeth Warren, is available from a Federal Election Commission filing.)

Warren’s total represents the money raised the day she announced she was forming an exploratory committee. Amy Klobuchar’s campaign released its total for the 48-hour period after she formally announced.

The gap between what women candidates have raised so far and the two leading men have is part of a common pattern in American politics. In the 2018 midterms, Democratic women candidates raised on average $500,000 less than men did, NPR found. Men dominated fundraising in 2016, and donors and “bundlers” who collect donations were predominantly male. Still, women donated a record amount, about $400 million, to Democratic candidates in 2018, accounting for about 36% of all donations in congressional races:

Nearly all Democratic candidates have pledged to not take corporate political-action committee money ahead of the 2020 primaries, which can make early fundraising totals a measure of their popularity with voters. Unlike many of the candidates he is running against, O’Rourke’s huge amount of money was raised without the benefit of well-crafted policy propositions or even an outline of what he was running on.

His announcement was followed last week by a series of public appearances in Iowa, home of the first Democratic primary season battleground, and livestreams on Facebook, where the candidate “has begun to flesh out some policy ideas,” as NBC News described his process. Asked about the single-payer healthcare system that he once supported, O’Rourke indicated he’s now more open to a hybrid system that would also keep private insurance in place. Quizzed about Brexit, Britain’s jumbled exit from the EU that is scheduled to happen March 29, he said he didn’t have any position on the issue.

O’Rourke is also still “working on” getting a campaign manager, he told voters in Iowa. On his campaign website, where you can donate, sign up to an email list, or shop for merchandise, there’s still no explanation of policies or his platform.

Plenty of merch.
Plenty of merch.

Sanders, the other candidate to raise millions in the first 24 hours, has been less vague on the campaign trail, pledging a Medicare for all single payer program, raising the minimum wage, and free college tuition for all, key elements of his 2016 campaign. However, Sanders still struggles to explain how exactly he would, for example, add 180 million Americans to the nation’s Medicare rolls.

Warren did the homework

Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts senator, has raised the least money according to publicly available information. Yet she has offered up probably the most-detailed, comprehensive plans to tackle problems facing the American middle class. Coverage of her campaign now questions how long her candidacy can last.

Warren introduced a concrete plan to reduce housing costs and create jobs by building more low-income housing, financed by an inheritance tax that would affect just 14,000 Americans. Her plan for universal childcare  builds off one used by the US military to deliver free or affordable childcare and proposes to be funded by a wealth tax on those with a net worth over $50 million.

Her housing and childcare plans were vetted by experts and academics before release, including the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, at Warren’s request. (He said they’re economically sound). She also has put forward an ambitious, controversial plan to break up big tech companies.

At a rally over the weekend, O’Rourke was pressed for details about health insurance by one Iowan who referred to Warren as the “gold standard of policy.”

Klobuchar, Warren, Gillibrand excelled in Congress

Overall, Klobuchar, who represents Minnesota in the Senate, Warren, and New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand have a much better track record in Congress than the rest of the Democratic candidates who have also served in the Senate or the House, as Quartz has reported.

That’s generally true whether it’s for actually getting bills they have written passed:


Or for co-sponsoring bills in the last congressional session:

Or just for simply showing up to vote:

As O’Rourke’s fundraising shows, though, the consistency shown by Warren, Klobuichar and Gillibrand doesn’t automatically persuade voters to open their wallets.