’s re-election campaign is straining to raise the huge sums it is counting on to run against , with sharp dropoffs in donations from nearly every major industry forcing it to rely more than ever on small contributions and a relative handful of major donors.
From Wall Street to Hollywood, from doctors and lawyers, the traditional big sources of campaign cash are not delivering for the Obama campaign as they did four years ago. The falloff has left his fund-raising totals running behind where they were at the same point in 2008 — though well ahead of Mr. Romney’s — and has induced growing concern among aides and supporters as they confront the prospect that Republicans and their “” allies will hold a substantial advantage this fall.
With big checks no longer flowing as quickly into his campaign, Mr. Obama is leaning harder on his grass-roots supporters, whose small contributions make up well over half of the money he raised through the end of March, according to reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission. And Mr. Obama is asking far more of those large donors still giving, exploiting his joint fund-raising arrangement with theto collect five-figure checks from individuals who have already given the maximum $5,000 contribution to his re-election campaign.
“They clearly are feeling the pressure,” said one major Obama fund-raiser, who asked for anonymity to characterize his conversations with campaign officials. “They’re behind where they expected to be. You have to factor in $500 million-plus in Republican super PAC money.”
With no primary to excite his base, the economy struggling to rebound, and four years of political battles with Wall Street and other industries taking their toll, Mr. Obama’s campaign raised about $196 million through March, compared with $235 million at the same point in 2008. It has lagged behind its own internal quotas in some cities, according to people involved with the fund-raising efforts. But that has been offset by a highly successful joint fund-raising program with the national committee, which raised about $150 million, twice as much as in 2008.
Mr. Obama has held more than a hundred joint fund-raisers since last spring, far more than President George W. Bush during his 2004 re-election, and has tucked fund-raising stops into many of his official presidential trips.
The result: The national committee’s fund-raising from the technology industry, entrepreneurs, Wall Street and the entertainment industry have all risen sharply compared with 2008, even as the Obama campaign’s performance in those areas has tailed off, according to data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics. And with no primary to fight, Mr. Obama is spending much less than he was at this stage in 2008: He had about twice as much money in the bank at the end of March than he did four years ago.
All told, Mr. Obama and the Democratic committee ended March with about $130 million in cash on hand, a sizable war chest and far more than Mr. Romney and the. Candidates typically raise more as the election nears, and Mr. Obama’s fund-raising accelerated sharply in the summer of 2008.
But Mr. Obama faces a major challenge in the months ahead. To raise as much money for his campaign as he did four years ago, the president would have to raise about $70 million a month through the end of the election cycle, more than triple the rate he has been bringing in cash so far.
Jim Messina, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, has publicly set a more modest goal, saying the campaign expects to exceed Mr. Obama’s 2008 fund-raising of about $750 million only by counting money he is raising for the national committee as well. That would require the campaign and the committee to raise about $51 million a month through November. Mr. Messina has also warned the party’s two Congressional campaign committees not to expect their traditional allotments of Democratic National Committee cash this year, money Mr. Obama is husbanding for his own efforts.
Mr. Romney, the likely Republican nominee, ended March with just $10 million in cash on hand, according to campaign reports filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission, and has raised about $87 million during the Republican primary season. His aides are hoping to raise a total of $800 million for the fall elections in combination with the Republican National Committee, which last week finalized a joint fund-raising agreement with Mr. Romney. The committee ended March with $23.4 million in cash on hand.
But Mr. Romney is also expecting significant support from Republican super PACs and other outside groups. On Friday, officials at American Crossroads, the leading conservative super PAC, reported that they had raised close to $100 million so far this year for the group and an affiliated organization, Crossroads GPS. Crossroads alone is aiming to raise as much as $300 million this year, while other conservative groups, like Americans for Prosperity, have aimed at raising close to $200 million.
The super PAC backing Mr. Romney in the Republican primary, Restore Our Future, has raised $51.9 million, and plans to raise twice that by November.
By contrast, the network of Democratic super PACs has raised far less. Democratic groups with close ties to the party’s Congressional leaders have raised about $18 million so far during the 2012 cycle. Priorities USA Action, founded by former Obama aides as a counterweight to Crossroads, raised about $9 million through the end of March.
To remain competitive, the Obama campaign has spent millions of dollars on high-tech, small-dollar prospecting. They have used sophisticated data mining techniques and low-dollar promotions — like $3-a-head raffles for dinner with the president — to reassemble the network of millions of supporters whose contributions helped propel him into the White House.
All told, about 58 percent of Mr. Obama’s total fund-raising during the election has come in checks of less than $200, compared with about 38 percent in 2008. In March alone, Mr. Obama took in $14.2 million worth of checks under $200 — more than all the money his campaign raised in February.