The Fall of Debbie Wasserman Schultz Creates Fertile Fundraising Opportunity for Opponent

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Tim Canova smiles as he speaks during an interview at his campaign headquarters in Hollywood, FL,  April 6, 2016.
Tim Canova smiles as he speaks during an interview at his campaign headquarters in Hollywood, FL, April 6, 2016.Credit: Wilfredo Lee, AP

AP — The Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week is fertile fundraising ground for one Florida congressional candidate, but not in the traditional sense of high-priced donor dinners or lobbyist happy hours.

In fact, Tim Canova isn't even here.

Instead, the political novice who wants to unseat Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is reaping big financial rewards from days of nonstop publicity about her resignation from the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee after a hack of embarrassing party emails.

Call it viral fundraising.

It's a down-ballot twist on how Bernie Sanders, who has endorsed Canova, was able to raise more than $235 million during his primary race against the far more politically connected — and initially better-funded — Hillary Clinton.

"In some ways it feels like we've won the lottery," Canova said. "There's been a natural donor base for someone willing to take on a person with a national profile who is seen as a failed leader."

Soon after Wasserman Schultz was booed Monday during a Florida delegation breakfast in Philadelphia, Canova wrote to his 20,000 Twitter followers, "It's time to end her political career for good," and shared a link to his campaign fundraising webpage.

Canova has repeatedly ripped Wasserman Schultz on social media: He said he's raised about $100,000 in the 72 hours since the scandal erupted, all without leaving south Florida or picking up a phone to dial for dollars. Wasserman Schultz, meanwhile, refused to speak to reporters as she left the breakfast on Monday and watched the night's speakers from a private suite filled with donors inside the convention hall.

Wasserman Schultz's 12 years as a congresswoman and five years as leader of the Democratic Party give her a donor list on the order of Clinton's. But so far Canova, a law professor in his first-ever political campaign, has echoed Sanders' success online.

Florida delegate John Archer, wearing a Canova T-Shirt covered in Sanders buttons, said he's proud of the way the challenger is funding his campaign. "He's doing it the Bernie Sanders way," he said.

Canova has raised $2.3 million through the end of June, more than three-quarters from donors giving $200 or less. By comparison, the $3 million Wasserman Schultz raised between January and June 30 came mostly from political committees and larger donors.

Canova said he has not held fundraising dinners and never called a donor to ask for money. "What the grassroots has done for me — I'm so thankful," he said. "If, when, I'm elected, I won't owe a single thing to special interests."

Sanders took the same approach, turning again and again to small donors online to propel him deep into the primary. In one memorable moment, after he won the New Hampshire primary in February, Sanders declared on national television that he was holding a fundraiser right then and there and asked for people to chip in $27, which he claimed as his campaign's average donation. Millions of dollars flowed in.

Republicans, too, have tapped into viral fundraising with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump leading the pack.

On Thursday, as he spoke to accept his party's nomination, Trump became the first political candidate to purchase a "promoted trend" on Twitter. For 24 hours, he drove those following politics on the social media site to donate to his campaign. His campaign chairman Paul Manafort said — on Twitter, as it happens — that Trump raised about $4 million that day.

"They're very open to trying new things," Jenna Golden, Twitter's director of political advertising, said of Trump's campaign. "They're not throwing things at the wall. Everything they're doing is making money."

Trump's campaign raised more than $26 million last month, almost half of which came from donors giving $200 or less. That's far higher than the usual small-donor rate for presidential candidate.

Canova said he believes many candidates want to ditch the dinners and donor schmoozing and do it all online, although he acknowledges that he is particularly lucky to have an opponent with a troubled national profile.

"I hope I get to Congress and have a lot of people very jealous that I haven't had to dial for dollars," Canova said. "Maybe that'll inspire people to take the fundraising shackles off themselves."

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