That Scranton thing: Biden holds commanding Pa. fundraising lead

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden rallies with supporters in Philadelphia on Saturday, 5/18/19. (Capital-Star photo by Nick Field)

Dwarfing the rest of the 2020 primary pack, former Vice President Joe Biden raised $937,723 from Pennsylvania donors during the first six months of 2019, reinforcing his deep political and financial ties in a must-win battleground state.

Recently filed Federal Election Commission reports paint a vivid picture of the campaign cash flowing out of Pennsylvanians’ pockets and into the war chests of the 2020 primary field. They also show the gap the 2020 hopefuls will have to close if they want to catch Biden in the fight for voters’ wallets.

“It’s a state that [Biden will] sell over and over again as the kind of place he can win back, if he’s nominee,” Christopher Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said. “Those are metrics that help him support that claim.”

Biden, who has roots in the Scranton area, has made Pennsylvania the cornerstone of his 2020 campaign. He launched his candidacy with events in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. His campaign’s main office is in Philadelphia, a short train ride from Biden’s home in neighboring Delaware. And he has fended off attacks from President Donald Trump that he’s not committed enough to his onetime home state.

Biden’s haul was nearly twice that of President Donald Trump, who is set to travel to Pennsylvania Tuesday for the second time in less than two months, to visit a petrochemical plant in Beaver County. Trump raised $487,664 from Keystone State donors through June 30, records showed.

Among Biden’s prominent Pennsylvania donors: former Gov. Ed Rendell, who gave $2,800; veteran Democratic fundraiser Kenneth Jarin, of Bucks County; and Comcast executive David L. Cohen, who hosted an April fundraiser coinciding with the launch of Biden’s presidential campaign. About 150 people attended the event, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

It’s those kind of long-standing ties that will make it difficult, but not impossible, for other Democratic candidates to overcome as they look to build their own bases in Pennsylvania, Borick observed.

“As much as he’s been wounded and taken some nicks in the early part of this process, his connections to the state are tight,” Borick said, referring to the wounds Biden has suffered both on the campaign trail and the debate stage.

South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg finished second to Biden, raising $252,994 through June 30, records show. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., finished third among Keystone State donors, raising $237,075.

For Buttigieg to “be performing so well in a key state and to be taking in such a solid sum is an indicator of the excitement he’s generating with the electorate in Pennsylvania,” Borick said.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who contended heavily for Pennsylvania in 2016, finished fourth, raising $214,905 from Pennsylvania donors Jan. 1 through June 30, FEC records show. Despite that, Sanders boasts a comfortable lead in the national fight for voter dollars, raising $46 million during the same time period.

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True to form, individual donors, some who gave as little as $1, formed the backbone of Sanders’ fundraising base in Pennsylvania. Donors who gave at the individual maximum of $2,800 included such high-profile names as the actor Susan Sarandon (who hit her limit on Feb. 19). Other donors came from across a variety of professional sectors.

Nationally, Warren finished second at $35 million for the first sixth months of 2019; Buttigieg came in third at $32 million.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., raised $117,468 among Pennsylvania donors during the first six months of the year, records show. She finished fourth nationally, at $25 million.

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Candidates from Pennsylvania’s neighboring states — U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio — may not have gotten the results they were looking for in Pennsylvania. Booker, who raised $12 million nationwide through June 30, took in $213,314 from Keystone State donors. De Blasio, who raised $1.08 million, garnered an anemic $1,505 among Pennsylvania donors, FEC records show.

If there’s a factor that’s working in the candidates’ favor, it’s Pennsylvania’s relatively late primary date of April 28, 2020. By then, the candidate field will undoubtedly be whittled down to its final two or three contenders. But it does give the hopefuls time to return to the Keystone State to build the kind of relationships with donors that are required for vigorous fundraising.

“If you don’t know a candidate already, you don’t give money until you really interact with them,” Dan Fee, a veteran Democratic consultant from Philadelphia, said. ” … It’s a question of how many times you’re here and how many times you see people.”

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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