President Obama — who analysts originally thought would be history's first $1 billion presidential candidate — lowered that bar Tuesday, warning donors instead that he now expects to be outspent by Republicans this year.
The president made the claim in an email fundraising pitch clearly designed to light a fire under his own supporters to pony up more cash.
"I will be the first president in modern history to be outspent in his re-election campaign, if things continue as they have so far," Mr. Obama said in his plea. "I'm not just talking about the super PACs and anonymous outside groups —I'm talking about the Romney campaign itself."
The president said he and Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican candidate, are on different playing fields — Mr. Obama often claims that most of his campaign money comes from small-dollar contributors, while saying that Mr. Romney has relied on deep-pocketed corporate donors who write large checks to the campaign.
The president made the direct call for contributions on the same day that officials in charge of the Democratic National Convention were firmly denying reports that the party's efforts to stage its Labor Day extravaganza in Charlotte, N.C., was falling far short of its original fundraising goals and would have to be curtailed.
Bloomberg news service, citing anonymous sources "familiar with the matter," reported Monday that the convention effort was well short of its budgeted fundraising goal of $36.65 million and was, in fact, grappling with a deficit of roughly $27 million.
Democratic Party officials called the report inaccurate, but there is no question that Mr. Obama, whose fundraising prowess and online cash collections were legion during the 2008 race, is having more trouble than expected this time.
Fundraising at the presidential level usually turns on intensity, with the difference in both money and voting dependent on how motivated each side is. The signs indicate that Mr. Obama has his work cut out for him.
"Even after a bruising primary and a 'second choice' candidate, the Republicans are very motivated to oust Obama," said Meredith McGehee, policy director of Campaign Legal Center. "At least so far, Obama has not ignited those individuals who became so excited for him in 2008 that they started giving repeatedly. Labor is weakened, and the left is disillusioned."
The president knows he has to gin up more excitement for his campaign, especially in the face of the expected onslaught of oversized spending on behalf of Mr. Romney from supportive GOP super PACs.
But the moaning on the campaign circuit about the Republican's money haul is awkward for a president who has spent more time fundraising than any of his predecessors at this point in their re-election campaigns.
On Monday, Mr. Obama held his 100th fundraiser this year during a two-day campaign swing through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Georgia and Florida that included six events punctuated by a meeting with Hispanic supporters in Miami Beach featuring a performance by singer Marc Anthony.
At several of the events, he predicted that the election would be tight in part because many people are still struggling through a sluggish economic recovery and Republicans are willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to defeat him.
"And because times are tough, and because they're spending these ungodly sums, it's going to be close," Mr. Obama said at an event Tuesday at the Westin Peachtree in Atlanta. He added that he is hopeful that voters will display the same level of energy and enthusiasm they did for him in 2008 as the campaign heats up.
"No matter how much is spent on the other side, when people are engaged and involved, and they understand that our core values and who we are and what we're giving to the next generation is at stake, the American people fight for what's right," he told the crowd.
A Republican familiar with the Obama campaign's ad purchases quickly asserted that, so far, the president's re-election campaign has outspent Mr. Romney's by a margin of 3-to-1, expending $55 million by the end of next week on television and online ads. The figure doesn't take into account super PAC spending, in which Mr. Romney has a definite edge.
The pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future has spent nearly $54 million so far this election cycle on Mr. Romney's behalf, while Priorities USA Action, the super PAC solely backing Mr. Obama, has spent $9.8 million in support of his re-election.
During his swing through Atlanta, Mr. Obama reiterated that Mr. Romney's agenda and plan for advocating for more tax cuts would benefit only the rich donors who are helping his campaign.
"It ain't right," Mr. Obama told supporters at the Atlanta fundraiser.
The president, who became a millionaire thanks to book sales about his life stories, took a shot at Mr. Romney's personal wealth by saying the Republican plan for tax cuts would save the candidate roughly $250,000.
"He'd get a little more," Mr. Obama said of Mr. Romney. "He's got more ... more than I do."
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