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Proving Competitive with Clinton Machine, Sanders Goes Big with Small Donations

Candidate who doesn't 'go around asking millionaires and billionaires asking for money' closes the funding gap significantly

Bernie Sanders, speaks during New Hampshire's annual Democratic convention Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Recent polls show Sanders building on his lead in New Hampshire and new fundraising figures show he is finding enough support to compete on the national stage as well. (Photo: Jim Cole/AP)

After a record amount of support on the final day, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign announced it raised $26 million in the third quarter, closing the funding lead held by rival Hillary Clinton substantially and proving that his small-donor strategy has the power to compete with the big-money operation maintained by the Democratic frontrunner.

"I don’t go around asking millionaires and billionaires asking for money. This movement is powered by working Americans who have had enough of our government working exclusively for a handful of wealthy individuals. I am very proud of that fact."—Bernie Sanders


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As of midnight Wednesday, the Sanders campaign told various media outlets it raised more than $2 million online Wednesday, bringing its total for the quarter to $26 million. Citing contributions that average around $25, the campaign says it has now received contributions from more than 650,000 different donors. The $26 million total over the last three months—during which Sanders' poll numbers have surged in key states and nationwide—is drastically larger than the $15 million he raised in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, the Clinton camp reports she was able to raise $28 million in the third quarter, down significantly from the $45 million that poured in during the previous three-month stretch.

As many observes note, however, the biggest—and more significant—difference is the way in which Clinton and Sanders are raising their money. As CNN reports:

A bulk of Clinton's haul came from events she personally headlined across the country, a labor intensive process for the candidate that has required her to spend considerable amounts of time on the fundraising trail.

Clinton personally headlined 58 fundraisers from July 1 to September 30, a pace identical to the 58 fundraisers she headlined in the second quarter. In the last week she has personally headlined over dozen events.

And based on CNN's analysis of figures provided by the Clinton campaign, the 2016 candidate likely raised well above $22 million at the events she personally headlined.

Sanders, on the other hand, rarely personally headlines fundraisers. At an event earlier this summer in Seattle, the candidate joked that he was a little uncomfortable speaking at a packed bar where people paid to see him.

Almost all of Sanders' haul came from the campaign's sizable online fundraising operation. Briggs said the campaign has received 1.3 million donations from 650,000 donors since launching earlier this year.

The third-quarter figures, explained Sanders campaign adviser Ted Devine to Time magazine, are "an objective measure of how far the campaign has come in a very short time. If we continue to build on this we will not only have resources for the front end of the campaign, we will have built an infrastructure … when we move into the national campaign on Super Tuesday."

One of the key advantages that comes with Sanders' small-donor strategy, notes MSNBC, "is that Sanders can return to his donors many times to ask for more money, while many of Clinton’s donors will have already given as much as they can for the primary campaign under federal law."

But perhaps just as important to the Sanders campaign is how its fundraising efforts conform to the message that is driving his popularity. "I don’t go around asking millionaires and billionaires asking for money," Sanders said in a fundraising letter to the campaign's email list on Wednesday. "This movement is powered by working Americans who have had enough of our government working exclusively for a handful of wealthy individuals. I am very proud of that fact."

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