Obama's September Haul Provides Huge Advertising Edge

Amount More Than Doubles Old Record

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has raised enough money to blanket the airwaves and place ads in nontraditional spots, such as video games.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has raised enough money to blanket the airwaves and place ads in nontraditional spots, such as video games. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2008; Page A02

Democratic Sen. Barack Obama announced yesterday that he raised more than $150 million in September, obliterating previous fundraising records and giving him an enormous tactical advantage over Republican Sen. John McCain in the final weeks of the presidential campaign.

With tens of millions more to spend than McCain, Obama has gone on the offensive in dozens of states, including several once considered long shots, such as North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri. He is running three television ads to every one aired by McCain, and he has built a massive operation to reach voters on Election Day.

The campaign has raised so much money that it is considering passing some along to Democratic Party committees to try to help grow the party's majorities in Congress, according to a campaign source.

Obama's September fundraising effort well more than doubled the record of $67 million that he set in August and more than tripled the record set during the 2004 race. The Democrat did it largely by continuing to tap the enthusiasm of novice donors contacted through Web ads and e-mail appeals. The campaign said 632,000 people made their first donation to Obama in September, and the average contribution was less than $100.

The single biggest spike in online giving for the month came when the campaign took in $10 million between convention speeches by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the GOP's vice presidential pick, and McCain.

Overall, 3.1 million donors have contributed to Obama's campaign, which has raised more than $575 million through the primaries and general-election campaign.

Veteran campaign finance experts called the September effort staggering, noting that Obama raised on average more than $200,000 an hour. "He has just completely changed the scale of presidential fundraising," said Anthony Corrado, who has been writing about presidential fundraising since the mid 1980s.

Unlike Obama, McCain opted to take $84 million in public funding for the general election and to bank on the support of the Republican National Committee, which raised $66 million last month. The Democratic National Committee announced that it raised $50 million in September.

McCain spent $32.3 million of the public funds last month, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, his campaign reported last night. Two-thirds of that amount, $22.6 million, went for advertising.

Obama's decision to become the first presidential candidate in history not to take public money was considered a gamble, especially because it meant being criticized for breaking a pledge to work within the confines of a public financing system born out of Watergate-era reforms.

"I said at the time that I thought McCain would not be particularly disadvantaged by taking public funds," said Bradley Smith, a former Republican appointee to the FEC. "Then Senator Obama goes out and doubles anything that's been seen before. It really is amazing."

The gamble has been paying off for weeks. Instead of having to choose which battleground states to which he will direct resources, as McCain is forced to do, Obama is spending prolifically in all of them.

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