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“I think that was really big,” said David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, which works to expose the harmful impact of money in politics and advocates campaign finance reform.

He said Mr. Obama’s election “actually bodes better than most people think for public financing of elections,” adding that the president-elect’s ability to tap so many small donors and repeat donors could be a model for a new system.

“The model that will make the most sense going forward is small-donor empowerment, that sort of seizes on and builds on the type of success Obama had,” Mr. Arkush said.

A popular proposal would harness small-donor power by lowering the limit on contributions and matching each contribution with taxpayer money, perhaps at a 2-1, 3-1 or 4-1 match.

David Donnelly, national campaigns director for the watchdog group Public Campaign Action Fund, said the promise for reform was gleaned from what went right for Mr. Obama, not what went wrong under current law, such as the continuing influence of big donors in elections.

“What is new is the explosion of small donors. The sheer number of people is an encouraging sign,” he said. “The outrage will be if we don’t use this moment to fix the system. … My outrage will be saved for the moment the president-elect says, ‘I don’t want to have public financing reform.’ ”