The 2020 merchandise primary has begun — and it could be key to Democratic presidential candidates' small-dollar fundraising
This article is an abridged version of the full article hosted on CNBC.com.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar didn't have a hat on when she declared in the frigid Minnesota snow on Sunday that she had entered the race to become the Democratic Party's next presidential nominee.
But by Monday, those seeking Amy for America hats didn't have to look far, though they might have to shell out. Baseball caps are available on the campaign store, selling for a cool $29 each.
That's just a hair cheaper than the one for sale from Sen. Kamala Harris and a 15-plus percent price bump compared with the iconic red Make America Great Again cap President Donald Trump popularized during his own primary battle. Like the hat offered by former Housing Secretary Julian Castro, Trump's cap sells for $25.
Those looking online for an official hat from Sen. Cory Booker will have no such luck, at least not yet. Booker's store has a smattering of stickers and t-shirts, but no hats.
Two candidates appear not to have set up online stores at all. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney did not have links to e-stores available through their campaign pages Monday morning, and neither responded to a request for comment from CNBC.
A whole new class of donor
That could soon change, of course, as candidates step up efforts to raise small-dollar donations and distinguish their brand from a crowded field of fellow Democrats, nearly all of whom are shunning typical sources of big-dollar donations.
Merchandise sales are considered campaign contributions, according to the Federal Election Commission. Experts say the added revenue can serve as an important monetary boost in addition to providing a unique source of advertising.
"It allows them to activate a whole new class of donor," said Bentley Hensel, president of 1776 Consulting, a political e-commerce agency. "A lot of people aren't willing to pay $5 or $10 in a donation. But they will pay $25 for a yard sign."
The merchandise primary was key to the fortunes of a number of contenders in the last presidential cycle, particularly those of Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
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