President Trump may win or lose the election, but he has already lost the fundraising war to Democrat Joseph R. Biden, who is benefiting from a late surge of the “dark money” from big donors that liberals routinely decry.
The Trump campaign entered October at a nearly 3-1 disadvantage to Mr. Biden in cash on hand: $63.1 million, to the Democrat’s $177.3 million.
Including money from outside groups, Mr. Biden and his allies surged to a total of $1.375 billion as of Oct. 14, compared with $856.3 million on Mr. Trump’s side, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That is a reversal from early September, when Mr. Trump and his allied organizations held a substantial lead in the money race: about 44% more than the Democrats.
The deficit and questionable money management under former campaign manager Brad Parscale have forced the Trump team to pull back on its advertising in key states such as Iowa, Ohio and New Hampshire. The Republican National Committee said last week that it would begin funding coordinated ads with the Trump campaign in several battleground states.
Meanwhile, the Biden campaign has been able to blanket the airwaves with its ads nationwide virtually at will, making a play for traditionally red states such as Texas.
Biden deputy campaign manager Rufus Gifford taunted the president on Twitter. “Remember when Trump said he would fund his own campaign if he needed to? Well He needs to. And We know he doesn’t have the money,” he tweeted.
Trump campaign officials were relieved after the final presidential debate Thursday. They said Mr. Trump’s strong performance led to a single-day online fundraising record of $26 million and that October has become the campaign’s largest online fundraising month ever, with a surge of donations double the size of the influx in October 2016 that propelled Mr. Trump to victory — this time a week earlier.
Combined with eleventh-hour fundraisers in Southern California and in Tennessee, Trump advisers said, they have more than enough money to get to the finish line.
“We’re able to make smart, enhanced investments,” said campaign manager Bill Stepien, pointing to a move late last week to go on the air in local markets across Minnesota, where the campaign had been relying on cheaper and less-frequent national ads to reach voters.
Mr. Trump says publicly that he is not concerned about trailing Mr. Biden in fundraising. He has used it as a club to bash the Democrat as beholden to special interests.
“You’re the one that takes all the money from Wall Street. I don’t take it,” the president told Mr. Biden during their final debate. “As president, and as somebody that knows most of those people, I could call the heads of Wall Street, the heads of every company in America. I would blow away every record. But I don’t want to do that because it puts me in a bad position.”
Mr. Biden said the majority of his campaign contributions are from small donors.
“Average contribution, $43,” he said during the debate.
But a New York Times analysis found that Mr. Biden’s surge in donations has been aided greatly by big donors — almost $200 million from contributors who gave at least $100,000 to his joint fundraising operation over the past six months. That is about twice as much as the president received from six-figure donors over the same period.
The president’s 2020 campaign has raised about $400 million less than Hillary Clinton’s did four years ago. Mr. Trump has cast his operation as leaner and meaner, saying his father once told him if you can win for less money, so much the better.
“We don’t need money. We have plenty of money,” he said during the debate. “In fact, we beat Hillary Clinton with a tiny fraction of what she was able to raise.”
At a rally in North Carolina on Saturday, the president said the difference between him and Mr. Biden is that he doesn’t owe allegiance to big-money donors.
“I fight for the middle class, and Biden and his cronies serve only one class. They serve the donor class,” Mr. Trump said in Lumberton. “Joe Biden’s allegiance is to his donors, and my allegiance is to the people of this country.”
Trump campaign officials say they are using their limited money judiciously to augment a ground operation that is far more extensive than Mr. Biden’s campaign. Mr. Stepien pointed to the example of Minnesota, which hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1972.
The Trump campaign has had 60 staffers in Minnesota for about two years. Last week, he said, the team and volunteers knocked on 134,000 doors and made 330,000 phone calls.
All told this year, Mr. Stepien said, the campaign has knocked on more than 1 million doors in Minnesota.
The campaign’s data is showing that the race in Minnesota has “tightened quickly” in the past three weeks, he said, with “significant growth among Catholics, and a 15-point jump [for Mr. Trump] among union households.”
Given those findings, the Trump team increased its ad buys in the state. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to campaign in Minnesota on Monday, augmenting seven other in-person events by the president, vice president or first-family members.
“The race is for real,” Mr. Stepien said. “It’s why the Democrats have been spending money on TV in Minnesota every single week, millions of dollars every single week, trying to defend the state that Republican presidential candidates haven’t won since the ‘70s. We as a campaign are increasing our investment in the state because we see a real opportunity in Minnesota.”
Mr. Parscale likely would still have a job if the president were satisfied with the way he ran the campaign’s finances. There was second-guessing internally about inefficient spending on fundraising operations, as well as expenses such as $10 million for an ad during the Super Bowl in February.
In the final weeks of the race, Mr. Biden is benefiting from a big influx of “dark money” from outside groups. These unlimited amounts of money can be used to influence elections without disclosing the donors.
Future Forward USA, a new political action committee, has spent nearly $100 million backing Mr. Biden and attacking Mr. Trump, according to Opensecrets.org, rising to the sixth-biggest outside group in total election spending.
The group is running ads in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida that attack Mr. Trump on his COVID-19 response and praise Mr. Biden’s proposal to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Future Forward is funded by political heavyweights in Silicon Valley, including $22 million from Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook.
It’s the kind of fundraising that exposes a rift in the Democratic Party. Liberals such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York warned in a letter to Senate leaders this month that corporate lobbyists and executives shouldn’t be rewarded with Senate-confirmable positions in a Biden administration.
“As elected leaders, we should stop trying to make unsupportable distinctions between which corporate affiliations are acceptable for government service and which are not,” they wrote.
The Biden campaign did not respond to requests for comment on its fundraising advantage.
Mr. Trump has been aided by late spending by Preserve America PAC, a pro-Trump group that received $75 million from Republican megadonors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.