BOSTON – Dinner with Joe Biden, "a beer or coffee, tea or whatever" with Elizabeth Warren, or a chat over a cheeseburger with Pete Buttigieg.

As the top Democratic candidates campaign ahead of next year's primaries, they're increasingly using personalized pitches to squeeze money from donors.

Sen. Warren's campaign offers to fly a contributor and a guest anywhere in the country, put them up in a hotel for two nights and give them a face-to-face meeting with the Massachusetts senator, her husband, Bruce, and their Golden retriever, Bailey, for "a beer or coffee, tea or whatever."

"Before you know it, you and a friend might be on a plane to meet Elizabeth and her guys," the campaign posted in a recent fundraising pitch. "You would get free airfare and a free hotel stay — along with an experience you'd never forget."

Warren had drinks with the winners of her first contest – a couple from Elmira, New York – in July, according to her campaign. She posted photos of the meeting on the campaign's Facebook page. The latest contest runs through the end of December.

Not to be outdone, Biden recently announced his own fundraising contest, promising to fly a winner and guest anywhere for a meal and ice cream with the former vice president. His campaign was expected to announce a winner over the past weekend.

"Joe can't wait to thank you for your generous donations that make it possible for us to win this thing," the campaign said in a recent fundraising email. "Plus, all entries go towards putting Joe Biden back in the White House so he can clean up Trump’s mess on day one!"

Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is offering a private get-together over burgers (meat or veggie) for a supporter and a guest. Suggested contributions range from $3 to $250.

"There’s a lot of big ideas to cover and some delicious burgers to eat, so come hungry and ready to talk about everything that’s on your mind!" his campaign wrote in a recent pitch.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders hasn't offered to host a meal but does promise to give donors campaign swag including a signed copy of his book, "Our Revolution," as well as hats, clothes and items.

For Democrats, raising money isn't just a necessity to fund the long primary process, it's a measure of credibility and staying power in a crowded field of candidates hoping to challenge Republican President Donald Trump.

Several top-tier candidates -- including Warren and Sanders -- are swearing off money from big ticket donors and political action committees. That puts a lot of pressure on them to keep drumming up smaller, more frequent contributions.

Michael Goldman, a longtime Democratic strategist, said the personalized pitches and quirky contests help candidates shake the money trees.

"The idea is to get a donor to give for the first time," he said. "Once they've made that initial contribution, they're invested in a campaign, and it's easier to get them to make further contributions. The hardest thing for candidates is getting that first dollar out of people."

For federal elections, contributors are limited to $2,800 per candidate per election. Many campaigns use ActBlue, an online fundraising website for Democrats, which allows supporters to make multiple contributions to the same candidate in small increments, as long as they stay within the limit.

Tobe Berkovitz, a Boston University professor who specializes in political communication, said the approach isn't going to put a presidential candidate over the top in fundraising numbers but it can convince a few more supporters to open their wallets and checkbooks.

"It encourages people who might have already donated to a campaign to send in a few more bucks," he said. "They see a chance to have a beer with Warren or a sarsaparilla with Biden and think, 'Why not give it a shot?'"

Some of the pitches project a desperation to raise money before the close of monthly and quarterly FEC reports.

"We’re struggling to compete with the more than $100 million Michael Bloomberg is spending on ads," Biden's campaign said in a recent email pitch. "He’s buying up the airwaves and drowning us out! Can you rush $5 now to help us buy back some critical airtime?"

To date, Sanders is leading the pack in fundraising with a $25 million haul in the most recent quarter, which ended Sept. 30, according to his reports filed with the FEC. He was followed by Warren, who reported raising more than $24 million. Buttigieg had raised $19 million and Biden more than $15.2 million.

Of course, Trump, by comparison, has raised more money than any of the Democratic candidates.

The Trump campaign, his joint fundraising entities and the Republican National Committee reported raising more than $125 million in the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, according to his FEC filings.

Pro-Trump groups, including his joint fundraising entities, raised more than $308 million in 2019, and had $156 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30.

"President Trump has built a juggernaut of a campaign," campaign manager Brad Parscale said a statement. "He is raising record amounts of money at a record pace."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com

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