The messages tend to fall into two broad categories. First, there are the overly familiar, seemingly personal messages that are billed as coming from “Barack” or “Michelle” or “Joe” and are often pegged to a birthday, a dinner raffle or some other gimmick. The campaign issued a flurry of fundraising pleas pegged to Obama’s 51st birthday, which was Saturday, including a contest to attend a special event in Chicago later this month.
One strategist calls them the “stalker pitch.”
“I don’t get to tell you this enough,” starts one signed by the president.
“Me again,” writes Anne Marie Habershaw, the campaign’s chief operating officer.
“Hey,” starts another from Obama.
Then there is the “Chicken Little” approach — deployed with increasing frequency in recent weeks — in which Obama and other Democrats warn of sky-is-falling outcomes if they fail to raise enough money. “I’m going to be blunt,” Biden warned in one e-mail last week. “The campaign needs your support more than ever. We’ve been outraised by Mitt Romney and the Republicans — by tens of millions of dollars — for two straight months.”
Michael K. Wilkinson, a photographer from the District who receives multiple Democratic fundraising e-mails each day, worries that the urgent messages from Obama are “making him look like he’s scared” and turning people off.
“The tone of the e-mails has shifted from ‘Hey buddy’ to ‘the ship is on fire,’ ” Wilkinson said. “Their whole strategy is based on grass-roots, small donors, which is great. But I worry that maybe they’ve over-relied on us to the point that not only are we not responding, they’re getting on our nerves.”
The Obama campaign, which declined to discuss its fundraising strategy in any detail, professed confidence in their approach. “We always take great care with those who wish to engage with us in any medium, including e-mails,” said spokeswoman Katie Hogan.
Many campaign strategists on both sides say e-mail fundraising has become so sophisticated that there is little chance the Obama campaign is angering too many followers. Peter Daou, a digital media strategist who worked for the presidential campaigns of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), said electronic solicitation efforts “are almost a hard science at this point.”
“We had it down to such a science that we would study the position of the donate button, the shape and color of the donate button, the language used on a donate button, to determine what worked best,” Daou said. “Nothing in an e-mail solicitation from a campaign at this point is accidental. Nothing.”
The Romney campaign takes a more sedate approach in its fundraising e-mails, both in frequency and tenor. “Mitt just gets it,” reads a typical testimonial sent to donors last week from a Nevada candy company owner. “He gets how much hard work and perseverance it takes to make a go of it as an entrepreneur. And he understands that at the end of the day it’s people — not the government — who build successful businesses.”
A Romney campaign official, who agreed to discuss strategy in exchange for anonymity, said the campaign is consciously pursuing a lower-key approach and suggested the Obama campaign is sowing a sense of urgency to drum up funds.
“Obama is stuck with the problem of trying to re-engage people who were highly motivated for him last time,” said Jeff Roe of Axiom Strategies, which helps Republican congressional candidates. “If there was more excitement he wouldn’t have to be so aggressive.”
Of course, if donors are really turned off they can simply ask to be removed from a campaign’s e-mail list. Even then, the campaigns generally offer users a choice of receiving fewer communications, rather than none at all.
That’s the option chosen by Thomason, the Alabama Democrat, when she hit the “unsubscribe” buttons on e-mails from Brown and Obama. So far, she said, the move has significantly eased the volume of fundraising pleas hitting her inbox.
“Now that I get fewer e-mails it makes me pay closer attention to the ones they do send,” said Thomason, 48. “Maybe I’ll be more likely to open them.”
T.W.Farnam contributed to this report.
T.W.Farnam contributed to this report.