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Democrats' pecking order shifts after first presidential debates

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, former Vice

Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Kamala Harris, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Credit: Composite: Getty; AP; EPA

The pecking order in the dense field of Democratic presidential contenders has shifted since the first official debates, with Sen. Kamala Harris surging while former Vice President Joe Biden slips in the polls.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also enjoyed a bump, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) lost some traction, according to polling conducted after the June 26 and 27 debates.

And the campaigns are competing on another front: by releasing fundraising numbers in efforts to demonstrate their candidates’ strength.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, brought in $24.8 million in the second quarter that ended June 30, his campaign said.

Biden raised $21.5 million since announcing his candidacy April 25, his team said.

Sanders, the fundraising leader among the Democratic contenders in the first quarter with $18 million, matched that amount in the second quarter, according to his campaign.

Harris (D-Calif.) pulled in $12 million for the second quarter, her team said Friday.

The shuffling among the leaders in polling and fundraising underscored the fluidity of the race with more than 200 days until the first contest, the Iowa caucuses, political experts said. The standings are tightening at the top but are far from set, especially with two dozen candidates vying for the nomination and unforeseen news events likely to upset the order, experts said.

“This captured a snapshot immediately following the debate,” Quinnipiac University polling analyst Mary Snow said. “But based on what we’ve seen in the past, we know that these contests can change.”

Polls conducted after the Democratic faceoffs in Miami showed Harris gaining following her onstage confrontation with Biden.

She attacked him for reminiscing about working in the 1970s with segregationist senators despite their differences and noted how he, in the same era, had opposed busing to integrate schools. Biden after the debate highlighted his decades of fighting for civil rights and clarified that he had been against federal intervention in the busing efforts, not the practice of busing itself.

Respondents in several polls last week judged Harris to have beaten Biden in the debates. But Biden held the lead among likely primary voters queried about who they would back for the nomination.

Biden had 22 percent and Harris 20 percent in a national Quinnipiac poll of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters. 

In another Quinnipiac poll three weeks earlier, Harris was fifth, behind Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg. Harris jumped 13 points between the June 11 and July 2 polls, while Biden dropped eight points.

A post-debate CNN poll conducted by SSRS, an independent research firm, pointed to a similar trend.

Biden was leading with 22 percent support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, the poll showed. But that was a 10-point decline since May. 

Harris, Warren and Sanders were behind the former vice president, but Harris had gained nine points and Warren eight points since May, while Sanders dropped four points, the poll showed.

Among Democrats in Iowa, which holds caucuses Feb. 3, Harris jumped to second place in a Suffolk University/USA Today poll. Asked their first choice for the nomination, 24 percent said Biden, 16 percent said Harris and 13 percent said Warren.

The Harris campaign touted a fundraising boom following her debate performance.

In the best online fundraising day of her campaign, Harris raised $2 million in the 24 hours after the debate from about 63,000 contributors, national press secretary Ian Sams tweeted.

Her second-quarter total of $12 million came from 279,000 people, her campaign said. The average contribution was $39, it said.

The $21.5 million that Biden collected came from more than 256,000 donors, with an average contribution of $49, his campaign said.

Sanders' team stressed that his financial support came from small-dollar donors. 

His second-quarter contributions came from about 1 million contributions, his campaign said. The average donation was $18, it said.

Buttigieg's second-quarter haul came from about 294,000 donors, and the average contribution was about $47, his campaign said.

Also last week, GOP President Donald Trump's campaign showed it was primed for the general election.

Trump and the Republican National Committee raised a combined $105 million in the second quarter, his campaign said.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale in an email to supporters called the total “a massive fundraising achievement that no 2020 Democrat can even try to match.”

Warren's campaign has yet to voluntarily release its figures for the second quarter of the election cycle, covering April, May and June of this year.

The Federal Election Commission does not require campaigns to disclose those numbers until July 15.

CORRECTION: Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had about 1 million donations in the most recent campaign fundraising quarter. A previous version of this story mischaracterized the metric used by his campaign.

The Democratic primary polls post-debate:

Quinnipiac University, national:

Biden: 22%

Harris: 20%

Warren: 14%

Sanders: 13%

Washington Post-ABC News, national:

Biden: 29%

Sanders: 23%

Harris: 11%

Warren: 11%

CNN/SSRS, national:

Biden: 22%

Harris: 17%

Warren: 15%

Sanders: 14%

Suffolk University/USA Today, Iowa:

Biden: 24%

Harris: 16%

Warren: 13%

Sanders: 9%

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