Off to a huge early lead in the money race, President Barack Obama hauled in $86 million for his re-election campaign and the Democratic Party in the past three months. It's better than he did in his victorious first presidential campaign, despite the sluggish economy and constant criticism from Republicans who hope to replace him.
The president's advisers have told donors privately they hope to match or exceed the $750 million they raised in 2008, perhaps bringing in as much as $1 billion.
Obama's campaign said Wednesday it raised more than $47 million and the Democratic National Committee brought in more than $38 million through the end of June, surpassing a stated goal of $60 million combined. Campaign officials sought to use the numbers to put to rest any questions about support, noting more than 550,000 people gave money, many for the first time.
"Our supporters are back, they're energized, there's a new generation of supporters who have joined this organization," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Even though the president faces no primary opponent and it may take months to determine a GOP nominee, Obama's team has prepared for a stiff challenge amid rocky economic conditions and tricky negotiations with congressional Republicans over the nation's debt ceiling.
Obama's fundraising juggernaut outpaced Republican presidential candidates, who have collectively reported about $35 million so far, although some candidates have yet to release their results. At the same time in 2007, 10 GOP presidential hopefuls had raised more than $118 million, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the GOP field in fundraising, pulling in more than $18 million during the past three months, and an independent group supporting Romney's presidential bid has raised $12 million this year. Other Republicans have been in single digits, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who collected $4.2 million in the past three months, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who reported $4.1 million, about half coming from his personal wealth.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has not yet released her fundraising totals. Through the end of May, the Republican National Committee had raised about $30 million this year, but it is still trying to reduce a large debt incurred in recent years.
Despite the early disparity in money, Republicans said they would compete strongly with Obama next year and make his handling of the economy a central part of the campaign. "With the economy in the tank, the president can't win re-election," said RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
Romney media adviser Stuart Stevens said the "DC power structure is invested in President Obama. They should keep raising money. Our goal is to make them spend it all."
With the proliferation of independent groups raising millions to influence voting, the campaigns' money will be only part of the massive spending expected through next year's election. American Crossroads, founded by Karl Rove, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, and Americans For Prosperity, founded by billionaire oil brothers David and Charles Koch, spent heavily in the 2010 elections and have pledged to invest millions in 2012 to defeat Obama.
Several Democratic groups have formed to compete with the conservative organizations, including Priorities USA, which was founded by former Obama White House aides Sean Sweeney and Bill Burton. Their group has set a goal of raising $100 million.
Obama's campaign has emphasized attracting small-dollar donors and building a network of volunteers. Messina said more than 260,000 people had given money for the first time this year _ a large increase from about 180,000 donors to Obama during the first half of 2007 when he first ran for president. By the end, about 3 million people had donated to Obama's first campaign.
His team has opened 60 field offices across the nation and has held more than 31,000 face-to-face meetings with volunteers. About 98 percent of the donors gave $250 or less, enabling the campaign to go back to those donors numerous times before the election.
"Once you get people to give and they're in your database, many of them are going to come back and give again," said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons.
The Obama campaign will provide more details on how much of the past quarter's money came in large donations when it submits its campaign finance report _ estimated at more than 15,000 pages _ to the Federal Election Commission this week. Spokesman Ben LaBolt said the filing will include the campaign's list of "bundlers," large-dollar donors who raise $50,000 or more among their networks of contacts.
Obama, who announced his candidacy in early April, broke his previous personal fundraising record of $33.1 million during the same quarter in 2007.
The most comparable fundraiser is Bush, who launched his re-election bid in mid-May 2003 and raised $34.4 million through June of that year. In his first complete fundraising quarter, Bush raised an additional $50 million, bringing his total to nearly $85 million by the end of September 2003. During the five-month May-September period of 2003, the Republican National Committee raised about $36 million, but Bush didn't hold many joint events with the RNC until later.
Obama has held fundraisers in a number of wealthy venues such as New York, Los Angeles and his hometown of Chicago, raising money for his campaign and for the Obama Victory Fund, a joint account set up by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign. At Victory Fund events, the first $5,000 of a donor's contribution goes to the presidential campaign and the remainder goes to the DNC, up to a maximum of $30,800 a year.
Ken Thomas can be reached at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas