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So it has come to this. Three months ago, when Beto O’Rourke began his presidential campaign, voters – hundreds of them, hungry for a new face to carry the Democratic campaign against Donald Trump – lined up 90 minutes in advance to get into one of his events. On Saturday, a few dozen people wandered in to question him in Kate Miller’s lakeside living room here.

There, as the sun dappled Lake Winnipesaukee’s Cummings Cove, just off a narrow body of water called Sally’s Gut, Mr. O’Rourke showed that he still possessed traces of destiny dust. Speaking to a gathering that sipped iced tea and lemonade as he spoke, he displayed a genial way and a polished delivery, offering a few morsels of red meat for the ultraprogressives, some soothing comfort for the moderates.

But despite the picturesque lakeshore setting, Mr. O’Rourke looked out on a forbidding political landscape, with rough waters ahead. He has slipped from the front ranks of the Democratic presidential nomination campaign and is fighting to keep pace with a front tier of candidates that is showing signs of breaking away from the rest of the pack. The explanation for his precipitous fall is less about him than about the others, who have discrete, discernible sets of followers, while Mr. O’Rourke simply has what real estate agents selling houses call “curb appeal.”

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After months of posturing, preening and practising, the field of two dozen presidential aspirants is experiencing a form of political mitosis, separating into two nuclei – a group of five candidates whose members’ prospects are soaring and a separate group of hopefuls, about four times bigger, that is struggling.

“With such a large field of contestants, the process of separating out the candidates is inevitable,” said Thomas Devine, who was the chief strategist for the 2016 surge of Bernie Sanders and was senior adviser and strategist for 2004 Democratic nominee John Kerry. “There already are candidates that have distinguished themselves from the pack. They do it through poll results and fundraising. It becomes obvious fairly early who is doing better than the rest of the group.”

AMOUNT RAISED BY INDIVIDUAL

CONTRIBUTIONS

Second quarter

First quarter

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

$24.9-

million

$7.4-million

Former Vice President Joe Biden

$22-million

NA

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

$19.2-million

$6-million

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

$18-million

$18.2-million

California Sen. Kamala Harris

$11.8-million

$12-million

New Jersey Cory Booker

$4.5-million

$5-million

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar

$3.9-million

$5.2-million

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke

$3.6-million

$9.4-million

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES

AMOUNT RAISED BY INDIVIDUAL

CONTRIBUTIONS

Second quarter

First quarter

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

$24.9-million

$7.4-million

Former Vice President Joe Biden

$22-million

NA

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

$19.2-million

$6-million

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

$18-million

$18.2-million

California Sen. Kamala Harris

$11.8-million

$12-million

New Jersey Cory Booker

$4.5-million

$5-million

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar

$3.9-million

$5.2-million

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke

$3.6-million

$9.4-million

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL; SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES

AMOUNT RAISED BY INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS

Second quarter

First quarter

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg

$24.9-million

$7.4-million

Former Vice President Joe Biden

$22-million

NA

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren

$19.2-million

$6-million

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders

$18-million

$18.2-million

California Sen. Kamala Harris

$11.8-million

$12-million

New Jersey Cory Booker

$4.5-million

$5-million

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar

$3.9-million

$5.2-million

Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke

$3.6-million

$9.4-million

TRISH McALASTER / THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: NEW YORK TIMES

The top group includes former vice-president Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Kamala Harris of California and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind. Teetering between the two groups is New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, largely on the basis of a formidable organizing effort in the early states of New Hampshire and Iowa and his likely appeal in the third state, South Carolina, where black voters account for as much as 60 per cent of the Democratic primary electorate.

Mr. O’Rourke and other promising figures – Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and former Obama cabinet member Julian Castro, among others – are gasping for political oxygen right now, as others prepare to drop out after the next round of debates, scheduled for July 30 and July 31, in Detroit.

The reason: While it was relatively easy to qualify for the first two sets of debates, the standards for the third round, in the second week of September, are substantially steeper, and preliminary figures suggest that, thus far, only the top five have met them. One of the hurdles: raising money from 130,000 unique donors, twice the standard to qualify for the first two rounds.

Though the Iowa and New Hampshire contests are more than six months away, political professionals often consider fundraising as the metaphorical “first primary” – and in that contest there are discernible winners and losers.

Mr. O’Rourke raised an astonishing US$6.1-million in the first 24 hours of his campaign, growing to US$9.4-million in the next 17 days. But his fundraising dropped to US$3.6-million the second quarter, landing him far behind his rivals, a gap reinforced by the fact that he remains at only 2-per-cent support in a nationwide poll of Democrats released this month by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News. In New Hampshire, his support fell from 6 per cent in April to zero in the latest Saint Anselm College poll.

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Mr. Biden has the advantage of nearly a half-century in prominent roles in American politics, and Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders come from states that border New Hampshire, which has been an enormous advantage for candidates in earlier primary contests.

Still, candidates such as Mr. O’Rourke soldier on. His answers won generally warm applause at the Meredith event, one of six he held in a 48-hour trip to New Hampshire last weekend. But he had to share the Granite State spotlight with two candidates from the top tier (Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris) and two colleagues from the other tier (Mr. Booker and Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, whose North Shore riding actually borders on New Hampshire). Even in a state of unusual political fervour, that is a lot of competition.

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