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Romney could best Obama in fundraising

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Here’s a scary thought for Democrats: It’s entirely possible that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee will outraise President Obama and the Democratic National Committee in the seven-month sprint to the general election.

In April, the first month in which Romney was untethered by concerns about the primary fight and in which he and the RNC linked up efforts, their combined haul was just north of $40 million — almost the exact amount the president and the DNC gathered in that time frame.

“It’s becoming very clear the president’s opponents are very intent on funding a candidate, regardless of how flawed he is, to win in November,” said Jonathan Mantz, who served as the finance director for then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid. “So when you look at the April filing for Romney and then add his super-PAC fundraising to date, Obama’s campaign must maintain if not step up their fundraising pace.”

What’s abundantly clear is that Obama won’t have the massive fundraising gap over Romney that he enjoyed in the 2008 contest against Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

In that race, Obama raised an astonishing $771 million while McCain brought in $239 million — a total that included roughly $85 million in public financing funds for the general election. (Obama opted out of public financing.) For you non-math majors out there, that means Obama collected (and spent) three times as much money as McCain, a huge gap that almost certainly put the Democrat over the top in places such as Indiana and North Carolina and cushioned his margins in other swing states such as Florida and Ohio.

There is a zero percent chance that Romney will follow McCain’s lead and take public financing. And even though he has spent most of this election cycle running in a competitive and splintered GOP primary, Romney raised almost $100 million through April.

“There were still a good number of historic Republican donors who had been holding out, but with Mitt now the presumptive nominee, they are coming off the sidelines quickly,” said one major Romney donor granted anonymity to speak candidly about fundraising. “Recent Romney fundraisers are exceeding goals.”

And then there is the Romney X-factor: his massive personal wealth, which — with the exception of a recent $150,000 donation to a joint fundraising committee for the campaign and the RNC — he has yet to dip into in this election. Although his campaign has been tight-lipped about how much more he could or would give, remember that Romney gave almost $45 million to his failed 2008 presidential primary campaign.

Add it all up — and throw in a pledge from the leading conservative super PAC to spend better than $200 million— and it becomes possible that Obama, the single greatest fundraiser in the history of American politics, might get outraised (and outspent) between now and Nov. 6.

Still, although Romney may fight Obama to a draw — or better — over the next six months, the incumbent has several fundraising advantages. Obama has already collected $233 million for his campaign committee and ended April with a massive $115 million in the bank. The DNC had an additional $24 million on hand at the end of last month. Romney, by contrast, had just $10 million in the bank at the end of March, although GOP sources say their nominee and the RNC had a combined $61 million in cash at the end of April.

Obama’s campaign has also spent heavily — $187 million and counting — to make massive technology and grass-roots investments that, they argue, will put them far in front of what Romney can do in such a short electoral window.

Craig Varoga, a Democratic strategist and fundraiser, expressed little concern with the prospect of Obama being outraised.

“If Romney ends up with more money than the president this year, it’s a return to form in which Republicans outspend Democrats — unwelcome, yes, but not unfamiliar territory,” he said.

Given the money numbers we’re talking about — both candidates seem set to raise and spend upwards of $750 million — it’s hard to imagine that money will be determinative in the outcome in November. Still, that Romney has the genuine potential to not just keep up with Obama but perhaps outrun him financially over the next six months is a striking development.

“It is entirely possible that Romney and the RNC could outraise the president and the DNC,” acknowledged Steve Rosenthal, a veteran labor strategist. “When you add to that the avalanche of money pouring into the right-wing super PACs, and the fact that polls are already showing a close race in most of the battleground states, it creates a troublesome scenario. For Democratic donors, now is the time to step up.”

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