If there's any single, incredible surprise that's unfolded over the course of the 2016 presidential primary race, it's got to be the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders. There are some oddities on the GOP side of things, sure, but in such an overstuffed field there was always the risk that random, seemingly inexplicable candidates like Donald Trump and Ben Carson would rise to the forefront. But on the Democratic side, this was supposed to be a one-horse race, and yet, Sanders is prospering like few believed he could — Bernie Sanders outraised Jeb Bush by more than $10 million over the third quarter, and that's an impressive feat that few would've predicted as recently as five or six months ago.
I'll gladly own up to this myself — long before the surging polls and adoring crowds, I was as certain as anything that Sanders' presidential campaign would end up looking more like 2008 Joe Biden than 2008 Barack Obama, even though Sanders' platform has always been uniquely appealing to populist, economic equality-focused progressives.
But now, with the figures revealed by the candidates' recent FEC filings public, the conventional wisdom-smashing dominance of Sanders' fundraising efforts can't be denied. As The New York Times detailed in their breakdown of the totals, Sanders hauled in a handsome $26.2 million in the third quarter, trailing Clinton at $29.9 million, but thumping the onetime Republican establishment darling Bush, who brought in $13.4 million.
When you're looking at each campaign's remaining cash in hand, as well, Bernie comes out golden. Clinton again leads the pack at $33 million, but a front-running Clinton fundraising machine in 2016 is exactly what everyone's been expecting for the last, hell, four years? Sanders' upstart effort, however, is also keeping its coffers impressively full, with $27.1 million in cash on hand.
This, incidentally, is the metric by which the GOP candidates really crater compared to the top two Democrats — Ted Cruz leads the pack in cash on hand with $13.8 million, followed by Marco Rubio and Ben Carson neck-and-neck at $11.3 and $11 million, respectively. Bush, on the other hand, has just $10 million remaining in donations. Simply put, when it comes to individual donations, every single Republican candidate is staring at Bernie's back.
There are some other, incredibly encouraging signs for Sanders, perhaps the biggest being that he's walking the walk on small donations from everyday Americans. According to the Times, a whopping 88 percent of his donations up to the end of September were for values less than $200, which makes his fundraising potency all the more impressive — it is, in the truest sense, a grassroots war chest.
He's also done a great job not spending the money too quickly, which is a particular issue for Bush. Sanders' so-called "burn rate" (pun dangerously intended) through Sept. 30, as The Wall Street Journal notes, is just 34 percent, meaning 66 percent of the money he's raised throughout his campaign remains unspent. By contrast, Clinton's burn rate sits at 57 percent.
All in all, in spite of the disadvantages — Sanders deliberately and openly opposes Super PACs, although some supporters have still established them — he's running an efficient, positively expert campaign so far. And while it's impossible to predict precisely how far he'll actually go, he's pulled off so much more than everyone expected already.