President Obama’s re-election team is reportedly aiming to mount the first-ever “billion-dollar campaign.” Since formally announcing that he would run for re-election in early April, the president has attended multiple fundraisers on the coasts and in major urban centers, courting high-profile Democratic donors and grassroots activists alike.
In 2008, Obama raised a record-setting $745 million, $656 million of which came from individual donors. In mid-May, the Obama campaign reported that it expected to bring in a “moderate” amount of money in the second quarter of 2011.
Scott Dworkin, founder and CEO of the Democratic fundraising firm Bulldog Finance Group, says that despite what is likely to be a disappointing quarter, Obama still has a good chance of reaching the billion-dollar mark. “It is very clear that the president, like most presidents, is going to outraise anyone that is challenging him,” says Dworkin.
Indeed, it would be difficult for Obama to have a worse fundraising quarter than Republican presidential candidate and former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, whose American Solutions PAC took in just $1,040 in April. Gingrich has been embroiled in controversy since he criticized House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Medicare on Meet the Press two weeks ago. However, his PAC’s anemic fundraising suggest that his campaign suffered from a severe lack of enthusiasm well before the highly publicized flap.
Jeff Roe, president of Axiom Strategies, a Kansas City–based Republican consulting firm, says such measly fundraising numbers will make Gingrich’s path to the nomination exceedingly difficult. “We are going to see very quickly if he is built for the trials and tribulations of a presidential campaign,” says Roe. “The one thing that can sustain him in this dark time, which every candidate will go through in some form or fashion, is his fundraising.”
When asked to pass judgment on the future of Gingrich’s presidential campaign, Roe opines that “he’ll be out by Labor Day. He is too smart a guy to put himself through that. These missteps and his current inability to correct them make [his poor fundraising totals] a double whammy.”
In fundraising terms, Mitt Romney is the candidate to beat on the Republican side. He recently made news with a single-day haul of more than $10 million in contributions and commitments from phone calls alone. In addition, Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC took in $1.9 million in the first quarter of the year on top of $9.1 million for all of 2010, during which it also formed five state affiliates, which took in an additional $2 million.
Some rival candidates have all but ceded the title of fundraising king to Romney. “We are not going to be the money champion,” Tim Pawlenty said on the Today Show last Monday. “Mitt Romney will be the front-runner in that regard.” Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC raised $3.3 million in 2010, but ended the year with less than $155,000 on hand.
Beyond the top tier of candidates are those who elicit devotion—and donations—from a particular portion of the Republican base. Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, for instance. Her PAC, despite an ungainly name—Many Individual Conservatives Helping Elect Leaders Everywhere PAC (MichelePAC)—raised an impressive $13 million for candidates in 2010, but ended the year with less than $200,000 in the bank. As a presidential candidate, she has not demonstrated the fundraising traction that she had as a conduit for funds for other congressional candidates. (For instance, a Bachmann money bomb last week fell far short of its goal of bringing in $250,000 in twenty-four hours.)
Roe argues that it is Bachmann’s ideological rigor, not her fundraising abilities, that appeals to her supporters. “Money is not her measurement,” he says. “That is why Romney’s numbers are significant; his frontrunner status is measured by funds. Michele is one of the only women that occupy the space she does. Money is less of a barrier for her than others.”
Dworkin confirms this sentiment. “Romney has done okay, but hasn’t been able to break away from the pack yet,” he says. “Whoever gets to a half billion dollars will be the nominee for the party.”
Noah Rothman is the online editor at C&E.E-mail him at email@example.com