It looks like President Obama is trying to run up the score. His campaign announced on Thursday that he and the Democratic National Committee have raised a combined $70 million during the third fundraising quarter of the year, defying expectations that sinking poll numbers and a busy legislative schedule would put a dent in the president’s war chest.
The total is just $16 million less than the $86 million that Obama and the DNC raised in the second quarter, a figure that stoked speculation the president would be the first candidate ever to raise $1 billion for his reelection. The skyscraping numbers dwarf the combined totals of his two most well-funded Republican rivals, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who between them reportedly raised $31 million in the third quarter.
The new numbers demonstrate for Democrats that, in at least one critical metric, the president remains far ahead of his Republican rivals. Even as his approval numbers hover at the 40 percent mark and some Democratic candidates distance themselves, Obama’s reelection operation remains formidable.
Just as reassuring to Obama supporters is how he raised the money. In an e-mail message to supporters, Campaign Manager Jim Messina said that more than 606,000 people donated to Obama’s campaign, bringing the total number of donors to just over 982,000. It serves as a powerful rejoinder to suggestions that the grassroots fervor that drove Obama’s insurgent campaign in 2008 has dissipated into apathy.
“So getting to a million grassroots donors isn’t just a huge accomplishment this early in the campaign,” Messina wrote. “It’s our answer to our opponents, the press, and anyone who wants to know whether the president’s supporters have his back.”
Of course, Obama’s fundraising is not a panacea for what all signs indicate will be a difficult reelection fight next year. Even as the Republican candidates themselves fail to raise money anywhere near Obama’s totals, conservative outside groups might bridge the gap.
American Crossroads, the group led by top GOP strategist Karl Rove, has set a fundraising goal north of $200 million. Officials there have said that those resources could be brought to bear in the presidential race, particularly in the weeks after the primary fight, when the eventual Republican nominee, drained of resources, is not yet prepared to go toe-to-toe with the president.
But it’s also true that money plays less of a role in presidential elections involving an incumbent than in others kinds of elections because much of the country has hardened opinions of the president. Given a choice between raising his fundraising figures and improving his poll numbers, the president would surely take the latter.