Romney’s monthly haul serves to undercut Obama’s reputation as the nation’s preeminent political fundraiser and signals a growing confidence among Republicans that the former Massachusetts governor has a strong chance of defeating the incumbent. The money woes add to the worries facing Obama, who is struggling with a wheezing economy and precarious approval ratings.
The fundraising arms race has become one of the central features of the 2012 campaign, as each candidate crisscrosses the country for donor events on an almost daily basis. The presidential contest alone could spur well more than $2 billion in spending by campaigns, parties and interest groups, with a likely advantage for Republicans.
“This is clearly an alarm,” said Clinton administration veteran Paul Begala, who advises a pro-Obama super PAC that has struggled to raise money from liberal donors. “I sure hope my Dems don’t hit the snooze button. I have been saying for some time that this thing is far from in the bag. It’s not even in the shopping cart.”
Brian Ballard, who chairs Romney’s fundraising operation in Florida, said that “there’s just this awakening that we have to turn the country around and that Mitt actually could win. There’s an expectation and belief in victory.”
Obama campaign aides said they had expected Romney to post strong fundraising numbers after clinching the Republican nomination in mid-April, and they maintain that the major financial threat to the president will come from super PACs and other conservative groups that can raise unlimited amounts of money.
Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, sent a fundraising e-mail to supporters Thursday afternoon with the subject line “We got beat.”
Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt told reporters that “we knew this day would come,” noting that John F. Kerry outraised President George W. Bush by 2 to 1 after becoming the Democratic nominee in 2004.
“We anticipated that they would beat us this month,” LaBolt said. “We’re focusing on continuing to grow our donor base.”
Even with his strong May fundraising, Romney could still have difficulty catching up to Obama, who has been stockpiling cash for more than a year and building campaign offices nationwide.
The Romney team and the RNC said they had $107 million in cash on hand at the end of May. The Democrats, who did not release a May cash estimate, had nearly $140 million on hand at the end of April between Obama and the DNC. Official disclosure reports are not due until June 20.