Why Obama beat Romney in fundraising for first time since April

Both campaigns raised record sums in August, but Team Obama came out on top. The secret weapon: lots and lots of small donations.

David Massey/The Daytona Beach News-Journal/AP
President Obama speaks during a campaign stop at Florida Institute of Technology's Charles and Ruth Clemente Center in Melbourne, Fla., Sunday.

Team Obama beat Team Romney in fundraising for August, $114 million to $112 million, according to figures released by both campaigns early Monday.

It’s the first time the Obama ­campaign and the various Democratic committees with whom they jointly fundraise have brought in more money than their opponents since April. And the Obama campaign is shouting from the rooftops.

Team Romney was also no slouch in the fundraising department. In fact, both campaigns posted record-high monthly fundraising totals.

But it’s the way the money was raised that matters. President Obama specializes in small-dollar, grass-roots fundraising, while Mr. Romney’s donors are more likely to make the maximum donation. The details won’t come out until Sept. 20, when the campaigns make their reports to the Federal Election Commission, but in their statements Monday, each campaign offered some clues.

Team Obama noted that its 1.1 million August donors gave an average of $58, and that more than 317,000 were first-time donors. Some 98 percent of the donations were for $250 or less. In contrast, for Team Romney, about 31 percent of the haul came through donations of less than $250.

Small donors become critical as potential ground troops when voting day draws closer – and with early voting starting soon in some states, the time to start “get out the vote” efforts is now.

But as a signal of campaign strength, monthly fundraising totals only account for part of the picture. Cash on hand matters, and Romney is strong there: $168.5 million, according to the campaign. The Obama campaign has not released the size of its current war chest. What’s true, though, is that Obama has spent a lot of money early attacking Romney, while the Romney campaign has been marshalling its resources for the home stretch.

Outside groups that support Romney have also been crushing the pro-Obama groups in fundraising.

“I’m not that concerned about the money, because a large percentage of ad buys has already been made in the battleground states by the presidential campaigns and the third-party interest groups,” meaning the political action committees, says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

The point, he says, is that fundraising is more critical for Obama at this stage than for Romney.

 “What is cause for concern, if you are a Republican, is that with 57 days to go in the election, Team Romney has not found a way to break through in the battleground states, especially Ohio, Virginia, and Florida,” Mr. O’Connell says. “And they can't lose any one of those states and win the White House. The electoral map is narrowing by the day, hence the ad buy in Wisconsin.”

Early voting begins in Iowa on Sept. 27 and Ohio on Oct. 2. So when the first presidential debate – Romney’s best chance to shake up a race that now tilts in Obama’s direction – takes place on Oct. 3, some voters will have already cast ballots.

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