Des Moines (US): After his late entry into the Democratic presidential primary race, billionaire Michael Bloomberg spent a staggering USD 180 million in December; more than all other leading contenders spent during much of the past year combined.
Since his entry late November, the former New York City mayor has drawn flak from rivals who accuse him of using his massive fortune, estimated to be USD 60 billion, in an attempt to buy the party's nomination.
The spending, detailed in a campaign finance report that all candidates must submit to the Federal Election Commission on Friday, has enabled Bloomberg to dominate TV advertising and become a credible contender. This, despite the fact that he has not yet appeared in a debate, and is not competing in many early voting states.
On Sunday, he will go head-to-head with President Donald Trump in dueling ads that air during the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the other leading candidates have drawn down their cash reserves in a final push before the Iowa Presidential primary caucuses on Monday.
Money may not be an obstacle for Bloomberg. However, the cash-on-hand sums reported by former Vice President Joe Biden, former South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar will offer a key indication of the health of their campaigns.
A poor performance during the caucuses on Monday combined with an anemic bank account balance could be a death knell for a campaign. It could at least make it difficult in persuading donors to give more money.
"For the guys and gals who have spent substantial resources getting to this stage in Iowa, if they don't meet expectations, they are going to be in a position where they have to live off the land in the coming weeks, which is not a fun place to be," said Danny Diaz, a Republican consultant who was a senior adviser for Mitt Romney's 2012 White House bid. He was also the manager of Jeb Bush's 2016 presidential campaign.
The totals reported on Friday will show where the candidates stood at the end of 2019. They don't reflect the month of spending in the sprint before the caucuses. Sanders spent USD 50 million over the last three months of the year and had the most cash still on hand, with USD 18.2 million.
Buttigieg reported that he spent USD 34 million during that time and had USD 14.5 million cash on hand, while Warren spent USD 33 million with USD 13.7 million left. Klobuchar had USD 4.9 million in reserve after spending USD 10.1 million during that period.
Biden has not yet filed his report, which was due by midnight Friday. Those who rely on traditional donors to fund their campaigns will likely face additional problems from Iowa unless they bring in new donors; some of their most ardent supporters have already given the USD 2,800 maximum. The two leading progressives in the race, Warren and Sanders, on the other hand, have relied on an army of small-dollar grassroots donors chipping in small amounts -- a source of campaign cash that does not easily max out.
"If one under-performs (in Iowa) and you're strapped for cash, you're probably going to crash and burn," said David Brock, a major Democratic fundraiser who leads two outside groups that are targeting Trump in the general election.
In October, Biden reported that he had just USD 9 million on hand at the end of September, which was far less than Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg. On Friday, however, his campaign announced in a memo to supporters that January was their strongest fundraising month since the launch of his campaign.