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What Obama’s $86 million haul means

at 09:41 AM ET, 07/13/2011

President Obama’s campaign announced early Wednesday that it has raised $86 million for its reelection campaign and the Democratic National Committee in the second quarter, setting a new record for off-year fundraising by a president.

Here’s what it means:

* The record: A record is a record. The previous mark for combined fundraising between a president’s reelection campaign and a national party’s fundraising committee in the second quarter of an off-year was $60 million, set by President Bush in 2003. ($60 million was also the public goal set by Obama’s campaign for this quarter.)

Obama’s total also trumps the $79 million Bush and the Republican National Committee raised in the fourth quarter of 2003, putting it on pace to easily surpass Bush’s record-breaking 2003.

On the flipside, the actual amount raised for Obama’s campaign — more than $47 million — is actually less than the $50 million Bush raised in the third quarter of 2003, so it’s not a record unless you factor in money raised for the national party committee.

At the same time, the $86 million haul announced by Obama’s campaign reinforces that we are indeed in a new era of campaign finance. Obama’s team has publicly shunned talk of raising $1 billion for his reelection – and will continue to – but it now seems much more plausible.

* The competition: Obama’s huge haul looks even bigger next to his GOP opponents, none of whom managed to crack even $20 million in the second quarter, and only one of whom broke $5 million (though Rep. Michele Bachmann, who has not yet announced her totals, could still exceed that amount).

Put it this way: even if Mitt Romney, at the end of the second quarter, self-funded the same $45 million he self-funded in the entire 2008 campaign, he still would have raised less than Obama’s fundraising machine.

The fact that Obama just set a record makes it harder for the Republican field to argue that its lackluster fundraising is solely a symptom of the lagging economy. It makes it look more like donors are either uninspired, keeping their powder dry, or both.

* The DNC is playing a major role: While the combined haul of Obama and the DNC was unprecedented, the DNC’s share is also noteworthy. The total haul was $86 million, but 44 percent of that went into the DNC’s effort to reelect Obama.

When President Bush was raising money in 2003, the Republican National Committee played a smaller role. It’s hard to see what the practical effects of this are, besides the fact that the national party committee will be playing a bigger role in the campaign.

That will be true on both sides of the aisle, but on the GOP side, it is conservative third-party groups that are expected to play a major role in opposing Obama during the 2012 campaign, perhaps spending hundreds of millions of dollars.

* Small-dollar donors: Obama’s team made a point to reinforce that they’ve still got the enthusiasm of the grassroots. They noted a total of more than 550,000 donors – another record for this early in a campaign – 98 percent of whom contributed $250 or less. The $69 average donation was actually lower than it was during the 2008 campaign, when Obama set new records for small-dollar contributions.

This is good news for Obama, who many thought might lose his grassroots support when he ran for reelection as an incumbent. His report shows that he can still tap the average American for money and suggests there’s still plenty of enthusiasm for his presidency.

We’re still waiting for more details of the small-dollar donors, but what we know now suggests the campaign has reason to crow.

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