WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren raised $21.2 million for her presidential campaign in the last three months of 2019, a total that lagged behind her top rivals for the Democratic nomination and reflects an overall slowdown in her momentum after a bruising fight over health care.
Warren was the only candidate among the highest-polling contenders — former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind. — to raise less in the closing months of 2019 than she did in the previous three-month period, when she raised $24.6 million.
But the Massachusetts senator exceeded a $20 million fund-raising goal set after her campaign announced last week that it was falling short, and closed out the year with a new rush of donations that could be seen as a boost heading into the final month of campaigning before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.
“We saw a strong surge of support at the end,” wrote Roger Lau, Warren’s campaign manager, in an e-mail to supporters, “over $1.5 million came in on the last day of the year alone, our best fundraising day to date.”
Warren’s quarterly haul — her second strongest of the year — shows that a difficult couple months did not significantly dampen the enthusiasm from her donors. But it falls well short of the $34.5 million raised by Sanders over the same period, cementing his status as a formidable and resurgent competitor as the two battle for young voters and the party’s left, and slightly behind the totals posted by Buttigieg and Biden.
It all underscores Warren’s challenge as the Iowa caucuses approach: She has fallen to fourth in the state’s polling averages, and to win, she will have to surpass three candidates — one on the left, two to her right — who have all posted stronger recent fund-raising numbers than she has.
For Sanders, the closing months of the year were unexpectedly transformative; he had a heart attack, which seemed like it could end his campaign, but then racked up endorsements and liberal plaudits as Warren faced weeks of attacks for her embrace of a nationalized health care system Sanders has championed but been pressed little on over the course of the race.
The two liberals have premised their fund-raising strategies on grass-roots donors, both swearing off high-dollar fund-raisers and money from various special interests — a point Warren’s campaign touted in the fund-raising e-mail and is making central to her closing argument in the final month before the Iowa caucuses, especially as she seeks to draw distinctions between herself and moderates like Buttigieg who still hold glitzy private fund-raisers.
“Elizabeth didn’t host any private events to raise money from wealthy donors behind closed doors. She didn’t take any money from Washington lobbyists or PACs,” wrote Lau. “And we still hit our goal.”
Warren’s campaign said the $21.2 million came from 443,000 donors and nearly 900,000 contributions, with an average donation of $23. Together, Warren and Sanders raised nearly $56 million, which shows their brand of populist politics to be a remarkably potent driver of fund-raising.
Top Democrats’ 4th quarter fund-raising
But Sanders’ fund-raising machine looks stronger overall. He has raised more this year — $96 million to Warren’s $71 million — and his campaign says he has a larger donor base. He announced he had one million individual donors in September, and said he got nearly 300,000 new donors in the last quarter of the year, while Warren’s campaign said on Friday that her fund-raising this year came from nearly 1 million individual donors.
Sanders’ campaign said it raised $18 million in December alone, his strongest month of the year.
Warren’s end-of-year fund-raising also lagged behind Buttigieg, who raised $24.7 million after essentially leading the charge to attack her on health care, and Biden’s $22.7 million — a total that represents a 45 percent increase over the $15.7 million he took in during the previous three months.
Warren’s campaign team sought to temper expectations before the year-end fund-raising deadline. All year, her staff has been generally tight-lipped about fund-raising booms and dry spells, but on Dec. 27, an e-mail to supporters said she had raised $17 million since Oct. 1, well behind her third-quarter pace.
“If the numbers don’t pick up, we run the risk of having to pull back plans to organize for Elizabeth Warren in all 50 states during the primary,” the message said.
The unusually detailed fund-raising plea was one of several strategic tweaks Warren’s team has made as she seeks to recapture her momentum from the summer. In recent weeks, she has delivered major speeches, taken more questions on the campaign trail, and shown more willingness to contrast herself with her opponents.
Other candidates can point to new surges of fund-raising momentum as they head into 2020, including Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, who raised $11.4 million in the last quarter of the year, more than double her haul over the previous three months. Andrew Yang, the entrepreneur who is calling for universal basic income, raised an eye-popping $16.5 million as the year closed out, after taking in $10 million in the previous quarter; his campaign said he raised more than $1.3 million on the last day of the year.
Taken together, the top four candidates raised a combined total of $103.1 million, more than double President Trump’s $46 million haul for the fourth quarter.
It’s a sign of surging Democratic enthusiasm as the Iowa caucuses tick closer, but also shows how the top candidates are prepared for a long and grueling fight for the nomination while Trump fills his war chest before the general election.
Jess Bidgood can be reached at Jess.Bidgood@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@jessbidgood