President Trump blew away all Democratic challengers in first-quarter fundraising reported Monday, attracting a bigger share of small donors than his 2016 campaign, aided by a strategy of holding rallies earlier than other incumbents.
The president’s reelection campaign raised $30.3 million and reported $40.8 million in cash on hand, putting Mr. Trump in a far stronger position than his predecessors at the same point of their first terms.
The amount raised by the Trump campaign exceeded the combined total of the top two Democrats in the money race: Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont ($18.2 million) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California ($12 million).
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who leads most Democratic presidential polls, hasn’t entered the race yet.
The Republican National Committee, which brought in $45.8 million in the first quarter, had its best nonelection year total ever. Combined, the president’s reelection campaign and the RNC reported $82 million in the bank, a total that has Democrats scrambling to catch up.
The Trump campaign said nearly 99 percent of its first-quarter donations were less than $200, and that its joint fundraising committees have enlisted 100,000 new small donors in the first three months of this year. The campaign reached many of those new donors through the 65 rallies that Mr. Trump has held since his inauguration.
“The tremendous support he is receiving is a result of ‘promises made, promises kept’ and the enormous appeal of his determination to Make America Great Again,” said campaign manager Brad Parscale. “The president is in a vastly stronger position at this point than any previous incumbent president running for re-election, and only continues to build momentum.”
In the 2016 campaign, about 25 percent of Mr. Trump’s donations were $200 or less. Mr. Trump also spent $66 million of his own fortune in the race three years ago, a move he likely won’t need to repeat in 2020.
In the fourth quarter of 2018, about 75 percent of the president’s campaign contributions came from small donors.
“I think they’re going to do better than any Republican has in the past,” American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp said of the campaign’s greater reliance on small donors. “He’s got mass appeal. It’s an incredible intensity.”
But Mr. Schlapp, whose wife Mercedes is a top White House aide, said the campaign also needs to be mindful of its expenses. Unlike other incumbents, Mr. Trump filed paperwork for his reelection shortly after the inauguration and began holding campaign rallies in the first few months of his presidency.
“They are running a non-traditional campaign in that they not only announced early, they started hiring early,” Mr. Schlapp said.
The Wall Street Journal reported that a review of the Trump campaign’s records for the past two years shows that it has spent more than $83 million on rallies, fundraising, legal fees and other expenses. That included $20 million on digital consulting and advertising; $15 million on automated phone calls and direct mail; and $13 million on merchandise like “Make America Great Again” caps.
In the fourth quarter of last year, the campaign raised $21 million but spent $23 million as the president traveled around the country to stump for Republican congressional candidates. In the first quarter of this year, the campaign spent more than $8 million of the $30 million it raised.
The president has held 67 fundraisers in office, including seven in the first quarter.
The campaign, with headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, has been hiring seasoned Capitol Hill operatives for its communications staff and now counts more than two dozen staffers. In 2016, the Trump campaign was sometimes criticized as a haphazard operation as Mr. Trump shuffled campaign managers.
Democrats raised the alarm Monday about Mr. Trump’s massive first-quarter fundraising haul, warning liberal donors that the president’s campaign war chest could leave Democratic challengers “in the dust.”
“Now that we’ve seen how much cash the GOP has stockpiled, we’ve got to take things up a notch,” said a fundraising email from the campaign of Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who raised $6 million in the quarter. “The GOP is already spending money on ads to get their message out.”
Her fundraising letter warned, “Democrats can’t let the far right have a monopoly on what voters are hearing this year — and we need resources right now to keep building our movement to win in 2020.”
Among the crowded Democratic field, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, raised $7 million, including $1 million since his campaign announcement on Sunday; Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota raised $5.2 million; Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, $5 million; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, $3 million; businessman Andrew Yang, $1.7 million, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro of Texas, $1.1 million.
Mr. Sanders reported $28 million in the bank, followed by Ms. Warren with $11.2 million and former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland with $10.6 million.
Mr. Parscale noted that the Trump campaign raised about 21 times as much money as President Barack Obama had raised by the same point in 2011. Mr. Obama didn’t start serious fundraising for reelection until April 2011 and had raised only $4.1 million of the $1.1 billion that he would eventually amass for his victory in 2012.
At the same point of his first term, Republican President George W. Bush had raised $3.19 million and spent $5.04 million; Democratic President Bill Clinton had raised $4.33 million by April 1995 and spent $3.71 million.
While Mr. Trump’s first-quarter total was impressive, Democrats offered comparisons to try to minimize the importance. They noted that Mr. Obama raised $45 million in his first three months of serious fundraising in 2011 and that Hillary Clinton matched that haul in her first three months of fundraising in 2015.