From the Weird World of Email Fundraising

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

There’s at least one thing on which Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders agree: Doomsday predictions about the Clinton campaign are likely to turn a profit.

On Monday, the Sanders campaign attempted to raise money by showcasing a fundraising pitch that the Clinton campaign sent to supporters after Saturday’s Democratic debate. Their common claim? To put it breathlessly: Hillary Clinton could lose the Democratic nomination.

Fundraising pleas from presidential candidates are notorious for exaggeration. Dire warnings and overly sunny assessments of the race are two extremes common to the genre. Both aim to whip fans into a wallet-opening frenzy. The impassioned pleas are often sent in the names of the candidates themselves, leaving a distinctly odd impression when you open up your inbox and see that Rand Paul or Hillary Clinton has dropped you a line.

Campaigns are typically content to come up with their own pitches. In this case, however, the same message resonates with fans of the rival campaigns for different reasons.

The possibility that Clinton might lose the nomination should strike fear into the hearts of her supporters. From the vantage point of the Sanders campaign, however, the prediction sends a message that Sanders is mounting a formidable challenge to the Democratic frontrunner.

In short: “The unthinkable could happen if you don’t give us money!” becomes “Look how well we’re doing! We need your money to keep it up!”

When one candidate’s nightmare scenario is another’s proof of momentum, it only makes sense to repurpose the message.