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What to watch for: presidential fundraising reports

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It’s Christmas in July for political nerds.

That’s right: As of about seven hours ago, the first big fundraising quarter of the 2012 presidential campaign was officially over, and some of the campaigns are expected to announce their numbers as soon as today.

Fundraising reports rival debates for the amount of post-event spin, so we thought we’d simplify it for you. Here are some key expectations, storylines and questions to keep an eye one:

* Obama’s first fundraising record of 2012?

The biggest fundraising report that will come out – by far – will be President Obama’s. The question is: will it be the biggest ever for an off-year? The most a president has raised in one quarter during the year preceding an election was George W. Bush during the second quarter of 2003, when he raised $50.1 million. Obama’s team set a goal of $60 million for this quarter between his campaign and the Democratic National Committee — a number that would be close to what Bush and the Republican National Committee raised combined in 2003. Campaigns don’t generally set public goals that they can’t meet. But will the Obama/DNC number beat the Bush/RNC numbers from 2003?

* Small donors or large?

Conventional wisdom has it that Obama will have to lean on big donors a lot more than he did four years ago, mostly because he’s no longer the shiny new thing in the presidential race and small donors will be harder to get. Nearly a third of his money in the last campaign came from these small donors (giving less than $200 apiece), and two-thirds of his money came online. How different is his donor base this time?

* The Romney spin war

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s (R) team has put out word that it will come in south of $20 million, which is less than it raised in its first quarter of fundraising in 2007. This, despite the fact that Romney enters this race as the nominal GOP frontrunner. Other campaigns will attempt to cast this as a symptom of a wide-open field and a weak frontrunner, while Romney’s team will have to explain why it didn’t do better. At the same time, Romney will likely blow away the competition, and it’s hard to knock the winner.

* Pawlenty’s low number

Expectations have been sufficiently lowered for Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s report. The question is just how bad it really is. It seems quite possible that Pawlenty could raise less than some second-tier Democratic candidates did in 2007 (think former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson’s $6 million and former Connecticut senator Chris Dodd’s $4 million) . Indeed, reports put the number below $5 million. But the more important question is whether he’s outraised by Reps. Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann – or even former Utah governor Jon Huntsman (Huntsman only got in the race last week, and his campaign on Thursday announced $4.1 million raised for the second quarter). Pawlenty has put a lot more time and effort into building his campaign than those three, and a small fundraising report – combined with low poll numbers – is going to build an unhelpful narrative, regardless.

* Bachmann-ia begins

She set fundraising records in the House and is currently the “it” candidate in the presidential field. Which means a big fundraising quarter, right? Bachmann’s campaign will point out that she only officially got in the race this week and says it won’t be releasing the total early. But it has been clear that Bachmann would run for weeks now, and she was raising big money for her House account – $1.7 million in the first quarter – even before she began building a presidential campaign. All of that money counts and can be transferred. A big launch means big expectations. If she can finish second behind Romney, that’s a really good day.

* Gingrich’s debt

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is reportedly in all kinds of debt, and we will finally find out just how much. Being committed to the race when you’re struggling is one thing; being committed to the race when you’re deep and debt and can’t get out is an entirely more serious matter.

* An opening for someone else? Rick Perry?

The lack of money in the GOP primary opens the door to someone really making a splash. Whether it’s Bachmann, former senator Rick Santorum or businessman Herman Cain, a big quarter now is a real chance to raise your stock. Cain, in particular, needs to show he has used his momentum in the polls to raise funds. If nobody puts up a wow number, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) will probably feel a whole lot better about jumping into the race.

Pawlenty speaks on shutdown: Pawlenty spoke out on the just-begun government shutdown in Minnesota, saying Thursday at a press conference that the last shutdown, in 2005, was not his fault.

“The equivalence is this: both in ‘05 and now, you had Democrats demanding that we raise taxes and raise spending,” Pawlenty told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The shutdown does bring back a less-than-helpful reminder of Pawlenty’s tenure. In order to get the government back to work in 2005, he agreed to a cigarette “fee,” which many labeled a tax increase and could be harmful in a GOP primary where tax hikes are anathema.

Pawlenty also defended himself against the $5 billion deficit he left behind as governor in January, which Democrats have blamed for the current shutdown.

McCotter will run for president: Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), who has been weighing a presidential bid in recent weeks, will reportedly jump into the race.

The Detroit News reports McCotter will file paperwork today and launch his campaign Saturday.

The cerebral McCotter is being given virtually no chance to win the GOP presidential nomination, and anything more than a token showing would be a real surprise.

McCotter barely took any votes at the straw poll at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans last month, but he is reportedly putting together a real effort for the Ames straw poll next month.

Fixbits:

Kansas moves closer to shutting down abortion clinics, while a judge strikes down South Dakota’s restrictive abortion law.

Perry will appear at the presidential cattle call on Mackinac Island in Sepember.

A group trying to draft Perry is reserving space at the Ames straw poll.

North Carolina legislators will release a proposed map for new congressional districts today. Republicans, who control the process, are expected to go after three or four Democratic seats with the map.

Romney appears to back off his claim that Obama made the recession worse.

Foreign policy is splitting Republicans in the Florida Senate primary, as well as the presidential one.

More evidence that Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock (D) will run for governor; another Democrat entered the race to replace him as AG.

Must-reads:

Minnesota government begins historic shutdown” — Baird Helgeson, Mike Kaszuba, Eric Roper and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Treasury Secretary Geithner considering leaving post after debt talks” — Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

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