In the Biggest Money — for Obama: Good News, Bad News

Photograph by Luke Sharrett/The New York Times via Redux

A campaign stop by President Barack Obama at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2012.

There is good news and bad news for the president in the numbers.

President Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign fundraising is the second most successful machine ever.

The first: Obama’s 2008 machinery.

The president also has spent much of his re-election money — $400 million spent since the beginning of last year, by The New York Times’ count, including $86 million for advertising. And now Republican Mitt Romney and his party and the super-PACs supporting him are out-raising the president.

Yet, for all this effort, the campaign still is relatively young. Romney has been involved in a general election campaign for just a few months. A lot of Republican money stayed on the sidelines in the party’s primaries, and that is flowing now — giving Romney a temporary boost.

Romney’s biggest donors are going to max out. If they are cutting a check for $5,000, then they’re done with direct donations to the campaign. (They also can give as much as $50,000 to a joint committee raising money for the campaign and party committees, minus that $5,000 if they’ve written the campaign a check.) Obama has a large pool of small donors that he can keep going back to, many of whom register for auto-debit payments where they give a gift of $20 or $30 a month.

News of Romney’s fund-raising edge will help Obama. Leading up to the end of the monthly deadline for reporting contributions, Obama’s campaign was issuing numerous e-mails like Vice President Joe Biden’s saying the only way they’ll lose is if they are outspent. It’s one thing for the party to cry poor, or the campaign to cry poor, but when on-the-fence donors, or other donors, see this story they will open up their checkbooks and/or credit cards.

At  the Rally at Panther Stadium, aka Bank of America Stadium, in Charlotte on Thursday night of the Democratic National Convention the first week of September,  there probably will be signs and messages asking people to donate via text or smartphone to the campaign. People watching at home and in the arena can text $10 to $50 to the campaign, $10 most likely, and that can start to add up quickly.

The bad news for Obama:

Most Americans do not donate. The 2008 election was an aberration for participation with hundreds of thousands of small donors giving. These small donors are, from anecdotal evidence, not mobilized as much this time around and are struggling with the increased cost of consumer goods.

Romney’s running mate may bring in even more money. When Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee in 2008, announced Sarah Palin as his running mate, money poured into the McCain campaign. She excited the small donor base of the Republican Party. Before Obama, the most successful small-donor fundraisers were Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Gary Bauer.

If Romney can pick someone who can have the Palin effect, that could be a problem for Obama — though the candidates most often mentioned in news accounts as the announcement nears, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Senator Rob Portman, lack that star fundraising lustre.

Obama is losing the money race among the super-PACs. Priorities USA, founded by Bill Burton and other former Obama staffers, is not competitive with Romney’s supporting committee or the American Crossroads committees co-founded by Bush operative Karl Rove.

At the end of the day, Obama is not where he wants to be in 2012, but it’s not the end of the world and he’s going to be more than competitive.


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