What to watch for in President Obama’s fundraising totals

at 06:30 AM ET, 07/05/2011


President Obama makes remarks during a fundraiser Thursday, June 30, 2011, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
President Obama’s campaign has pledged to raise $60 million between the beginning of April and the end of June, a total that most smart observers believe the 2012 reelection operation will easily surpass when the number goes public in a few days.

Assuming Obama’s fundraising, which is a combination of cash collected for Obama and money raised for the Democratic National Committee, is at or above $60 million, he will swamp the Republican field, whose biggest cash collector — former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney — is expected to show roughly $20 million raised.

But, beyond that most obvious storyline, what else is there to be gleaned from Obama’s first major fundraising quarter as an incumbent president? We offer a few suggestions below.

* The biggest ever?: The reality is that Obama isn’t competing against his potential Republican opponents. They are raising cash in a crowded field and without the help of a a joint fundraising committee like the one Obama is using that allows a donor to write a single check that can then be divvied up between the re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The more apt comparison then is to President George W. Bush. In the 2nd quarter of 2003, Bush collected $35 million but went on to top $50 million between July 1 and Sept. 30 — the most ever raised by an incumbent president in any three-month period during an off year.

Bush’s total fundraising in 2003, which amounted to nine months since he didn’t raise money in the first quarter of the year, was $132.5 million. It seems like a virtual certainty that Obama will eclipse that total by the end of 2011.

* Obama+Clinton: One of the early goals for the Obama finance team is to collect cash from the major donors who raised money for then-Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) 2008 presidential bid.

Assuming that Obama and Clinton roughly cornered the Democratic fundraising market during that race — former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards raised millions but was never close to being competitive with the top two — it’s instructive to see just what that ceiling might be.

Both Clinton and Obama began raising money aggressively in the first quarter of 2007 and, combined, brought in $52 million. (Obama raised $26 million while Clinton brought in $36 million — $10 million of which, however, was a transfer from cash left over in her Senate account.)

In the second quarter of 2007, the two raised $60 million combined, with $33 million of that coming from Obama. (Our guess is that Obama’s 2nd quarter 2011 goal originated from the combined total he and Clinton raised four years ago at this time.)

For all of 2007, Obama and Clinton raised $211.5 million together. While Obama is raising money for three months less than he and Clinton did in 2007, he is also a sitting president now — and that $211.5 million could well be the campaign’s ultimate money goal for 2011.

* Big vs. small: One of the hallmarks of Obama’s 2008 fundraising operation was its small-dollar donors, with $500 million of the $750 million he raised coming from the Internet. There were 6.5 million online donations made, and 6 million of them were for $100 or less, with the average Internet contribution at just $80.

The Obama operation set a goal of recruiting 450,000 donors in the second quarter and were already over 490,000 as the midnight deadline approached on June 30. (Remember: campaigns set public goals they know they can meet and exceed; it’s a classic bit of playing the expectations game.)

The senior ranks of the 2012 reelection effort know that the campaign’s low-dollar fundraising will be closely scrutinized for signs of whether the grass-roots fervor Obama was able to elicit in 2008 is still around.

The simple fact is that Obama almost certainly will not match the amount he collected online in 2008 due to the realities of being a sitting president and not a candidate for the office. (People can pour their hopes, dreams and money into a candidate; it’s harder to do that with an incumbent with a four-year record that has left some on the left wanting.)

But, Obama must show a significant level of low-dollar donations to prove that he still has the support base that carried him to victory in 2008.

“The ultimate challenge will be whether any of the finance reports, not just this one, show the involvement of returning grass-roots troops,” said one senior Democratic operative granted anonymity to speak candidly. “Will all those new participants from 2008 be veteran Obama voters in 2012? If they are contributing then they will be voting.”

RGA has huge quarter: The Republican Governors Association continued its torrid fundraising from last cycle, bringing in a record $22.1 million in the first half of an off year.

The total far exceeds the $12.2 million the committee brought in for the first half of the last off year, 2009, and exceeds the entire amount it raised in the last similar year, 2007.

“Republican governors are providing transformational leadership -- making their states more competitive, balancing budgets, and reforming education,” RGA Executive Director Phil Cox said. “These strong fundraising numbers are a testament to the governors’ continued leadership and the RGA’s effectiveness as a political committee.”

The RGA benefits from not having to abide by the same federal contribution limits as its House and Senate counterparts. And it used that advantage to flood competitive governor’s races with money in 2010, raising $87 million for the year alone.

For 2011 and 2012, the RGA is overseeing14 governor’s races, including four this year. In 2010, it oversaw 37 races.

The Democratic Governors Association, which has lagged behind the RGA in fundraising in recent years, has yet to release its totals.

Fixbits:

New Jersey’s Democratic state Senate president calls Gov. Chris Christie (R) “a bully and a punk” and threatens to punch him.

Bill Clinton weighs in on the 2012 GOP field.

Mitt Romney has an actual soap box.

Romney clarifies that he does think Obama made the recession worse.

Vice President Biden is on Twitter now.

Romney and Jon Huntsman run into each other in New Hampshire.

Tea party favorite Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) releases his book.

Speaking of the tea party, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is planning to filibuster the debt ceiling vote.

Must-reads:

One Republican race, two starting points” — Nia-Malika Henderson and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

Arrogant or bold? Ohio Gov. Kasich’s push to fix economy making him friends, enemies” — AP

Calif. redistricting could imperil GOP House seats” — AP

His Aggressiveness Unabated, Christie Keeps His Momentum” — Richard Perez-Pena, New York Times

Newt Gingrich bets on Alzheimer’s, other niche issues as key to a 2012 comeback” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

112th Congress is one of the least productive in years” — Kathleen Hennessey, Chicago Tribune

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