President Obama appears increasingly unlikely to break the billion-dollar fundraising mark for his 2012 reelection campaign — although he will almost certainly have a financial advantage over his eventual Republican opponent in November.

Because Obama raised $770 million for his 2008 bid, there has been speculation that as an incumbent he might break the 10-figure mark. His campaign has worked hard to fight that notion.

With the Obama team releasing its final 2011 fundraising numbers on Thursday, it now appears that the billion-dollar mark is nearly out of reach. The president reported raising $42 million in the final three months of last year, bringing his total collected in 2011 to $130 million. His campaign did not release its cash-on-hand total on Thursday.

To raise the $870 million he would need to reach $1 billion, Obama would have to take in about $87 million each month between now and the end of October.

Is that possible? Sure. Is it probable? No.

“There is no way President Obama will meet the billion-dollar goal on his current pace,” said Jack Oliver, who served as national finance director for George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential bid.

Although Obama seems likely to fall short of $1 billion — it was a figure his campaign regularly scoffed at as simply pie in the sky — he does remain a remarkable fundraising force.

“That’s a pretty good start,” campaign manager Jim Messina said of Obama’s fourth-quarter take in a Web video sent to supporters Thursday morning. He added that the campaign received donations from 1.3 million people in 2011 — including 583,000 in the final three months of the year. “This enthusiasm is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen on the other side,” Messina said.

The $130 million Obama raised in 2011 dwarfs the totals put up by the Republicans hoping to unseat him in November. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney announced this week that he raised $24 million in the fourth quarter and $56 million total in 2011.

Other GOP candidates ran well behind Romney. Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) is expected to report bringing in $13 million over the final three months of 2011, while former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) has said publicly that he collected $9 million during that period.

“The Obama filing was unquestionably impressive,” said Jonathan Mantz, who led the fundraising efforts for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid. “The fourth quarter is never an easy fundraising quarter, especially during these past few months when the political spotlight has been on the Republican presidential candidates.”

What that fundraising disparity means is that Obama will be able to set the terms — or at least take a first crack at setting the terms — of the general election.

But when will it make sense for Obama to start spending all that money?

Conversations with a variety of Democrats, media gurus and party strategists revealed a widespread consensus that Obama should not begin spending freely on television advertising until the Republican attacks on Romney slow.

“I think he waits until the GOP guns against Mitt stop firing,” Democratic pollster Paul Maslin said. “And even then he can wait a while longer.”

Mark Penn, who served as the chief strategist for Clinton’s presidential campaign, suggested that Obama make no advertising decisions until after his State of the Union address on Jan. 24 — three days after the South Carolina Republican primary.

“The State of the Union is his major communications opportunity to lead the nation and frame the debate on the campaign,” Penn said. “I’d suggest spots after it, not before.”

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