Obama campaign call affirms money anxiety

July 1, 2012

Leaked details of a plaintive phone call from President Obama to some of his biggest donors this weekend offered a rare and revealing look into the typically private rituals of big-dollar campaign fundraising.

The pitch also affirmed the campaign’s anxiety about lagging behind in the money race.

In the conference call made late Friday from a special campaign phone on Air Force One, a recording of which was obtained by the Daily Beast, Obama bemoaned the anonymous super PAC donations flowing to his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney.

“If things continue as they have so far, I’ll be the first sitting president in modern history to be outspent in his reelection campaign,” he said, according to the report.

If Democrats didn’t write checks, Obama warned, such Republican PACs could permanently alter the political landscape. “The special interests that are financing my opponent’s campaign are just going to consolidate themselves,” he said. “They’re gonna run Congress and the White House.”

Obama was candid and contemplative in the 18-minute call with donors who had given him the maximum allowable amount in his last campaign, addressing concerns that some supporters might be less enthusiastic — and generous — than they were four years ago.

“In 2008 everything was new and exciting about our campaign,” Obama told the unidentified donors, according to the Daily Beast. “And now I’m the incumbent president. I’ve got gray hair. People have seen disappointment because folks had a vision of change happening immediately. And it turns out change is hard, especially when you’ve got an obstructionist Republican Congress.”

Such fundraising pitches aren’t unusual, since candidates seek to keep donors from feeling complacent, and Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt characterized the conference call as “routine.” But it echoes the urgent tone the Obama campaign has struck in recent appeals, which have raised the specter of Romney holding a significant cash advantage over Obama. “I will be outspent,” read the subject line of a Tuesday e-mail Obama sent his supporters.

The call from Air Force One, which apparently ran afoul of no laws governing the separation of official and campaign business, came just hours before the Saturday deadline for reporting June donations.

And it was on the heels of what turned out to be a fundraising boon for Romney: the former Massachusetts governor’s campaign claims to have taken in $4.6 million during the 24 hours after the Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to uphold the Affordable Care Act. The Obama campaign claims that it, too, raked in money after the decision, though the campaignhas not revealed how much.

Obama has benefited from Democratic super PACs, but they have trailed their GOP counterparts in amassing funds.

The Romney campaign raised more than Obama in May and a senior Obama official predicted to reporters two weeks ago that Romney could raise $100 million in June.

For a campaign that had the luxury of vastly outspending Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) four years ago, the prospect of being on the other side of a torrent of money has become the second-biggest worry, after the state of the economy — which is expected to be voters’ No. 1 concern.

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Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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