President Obama campaigns recently in Milwaukee. (Scott Olson / Getty Images )
WASHINGTON — President Obama is on track to be the first $1-billion candidate.
The notion seemed almost astounding two years ago, when Republican strategists first predicted Obama could raise that much money for his reelection bid. For their part, Obama campaign officials discounted the idea that they were aiming that high, telling donors that their goal was to bring in “north of $750 million.”
Obama surpassed that mark by Aug. 31. By then, he had raised $766 million between his reelection campaign, the Democratic National Committee and two joint fundraising committees, according the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute.
In his 2008 bid, Obama raised $745 million through his campaign and several joint fundraising committees, and more than $100 million more in conjunction with the DNC.
To reach $1 billion this cycle, the president would need to bring in $117 million in both September and October. That seems well within his reach: Obama’s campaign and the DNC together raised nearly $115 million in August. Their take was likely even bigger in September, thanks in part to the Democratic National Convention, where campaign manager Jim Messina urged supporters to embrace a new method of donation via text messaging.
INTERACTIVE: Campaign contributions by state
Meanwhile, Republican challenger Mitt Romney had raised $669 million between his campaign, the Republican National Committee and a joint fundraising committee as of Aug. 31. At his current pace, he is on track to bring in close to $900 million, surpassing the $800-million goal set by his campaign.
Nevertheless, it looks like Obama will end up ahead in the money race.
Wait a minute, you’re thinking. Hasn’t the president been warning he was going to be vastly outspent in this election?
Indeed, that was his campaign’s persistent warning cry to Democratic rank-and-file throughout the summer, as Romney notched monthly fundraising victories over Obama.
"I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his reelection campaign, if things continue as they have so far," Obama wrote in a fundraising email in June. "I'm not just talking about the super PACs and anonymous outside groups -- I'm talking about the Romney campaign itself.”
Politifact.com has pointed out that isn’t quite true -- both Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton faced opponents who outraised them. Those scenarios were different, however: Both Ronald Reagan and Bob Dole had more money than the incumbent because they raised it to spend in their primary campaigns. In the general elections, all the candidates accepted an equal amount of public grants.
Obama upended the landscape in 2008 when, raking in record donations, he opted out of the public funding system. He was the first major-party candidate to forgo public financing, a system put in place in the wake of the Watergate scandal. His Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, accepted public money and was vastly outspent.
INTERACTIVE: Spending during the 2012 election
After that, there was little chance either candidate would take the risk of staying within the public finance system in 2012.
This year, Obama’s campaign has expanded its 2008 base of contributors to an extent that has even surprised fundraisers. Over the weekend, the campaign registered its 10 millionth donation.
It’s the small contributions that have given Obama the edge over Romney in the money race. Through August, Obama had raised $147 million from donors who had given $200 or less -- 34% of his receipts from individuals, according to an analysis by the Campaign Finance Institute.
Romney, meanwhile, had raised $39.5 million from small donors, just 18% of his total.
Indeed, for all of the talk about the role of mega donors in financing super PACs and other outside groups this year, Obama’s fundraising success has underscored the value of creating a vast network of small donors.
“Almost the entire campaign fundraising advantage that Obama has over Romney is due to small donors,” said Michael Malbin, the institute’s executive director. “They were the big story of 2008 and then everybody thought they were going be overshadowed in 2012. I think they’re the overlooked story. They not only supply money to candidates, but they supply enthusiasm. And in a race that’s going to come down to mobilization in key battleground states, that enthusiasm becomes crucial.”
[Updated, 3:40 p.m., Oct. 2: This post now includes how much money Obama raised during his 2008 presidential bid.]
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