But Obama lags behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney in finding donors willing to give $2,000 or more — a surprising development for a sitting president, and one that could signal more worrisome financial problems heading into the general election. At this point in the last election cycle, Obama had received such large donations from more than 23,000 supporters, more than double the 11,000 who have given him that much this time. President George W. Bush had more than four times that number of big donations at this point in his reelection.
Democrats see a variety of possible explanations for such a dramatic drop in big-dollar contributions. The ailing economy has dampened fundraising overall. Some wealthy liberals and Wall Street executives alike have grown disaffected with the president over time. And the extended Republican primary has shined a spotlight on a field of potential rivals that many Democrats believe Obama will easily beat.
“Some people think these Republicans are easy marks, and they aren’t taking it as seriously as they need to yet,” said Judy Wise, one of Obama’s “bundlers,” the campaign term for people who host events and gather checks from other donors.
Whatever the reason, Obama appears to be redoubling his efforts to extract bigger contributions from his support base. He has stepped up his fundraising events in recent weeks, taking swings through several different regions for more than 40 events in 2012. On Friday, the president did five events in two states with an expected haul of at least $5.5 million.
The campaign typically holds three or more events with different donation levels in one evening, part of a strategy to make Obama available to different types of people. The biggest event Friday featured singer Cee Lo Green at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. Tickets were $500 with a $2,500 donation for VIP access and a $10,000 donation for a photo with the president.
Federal laws cap donations to the candidates at $2,500 for the period before the convention and $2,500 after that. Obama has been able to raise much bigger amounts by collecting donations for the Democratic National Committee, which can total $61,600 per person over two years.
Republicans and Democrats alike thought Obama would have a big financial advantage over Republicans this fall given his record-breaking 2008 fundraising and his status as the sitting president. But the trend of slackening big-donor support is the latest in a series of indications that the 2012 money battle is going to be much tighter than once imagined.