SAN JOSE, Calif. — This is no 2008, when money seemed to fall from the sky for a young senator named Barack Obama.
In theory, fundraising should be even easier this time for the Democrat who shattered money records in his first White House campaign. He’s the president now, with an unparalleled bullhorn and reach.
But his title isn’t all that’s changed. The economy is sickly, and he’s in charge. That’s not only threatening his re-election; it’s also making it more difficult to inspire people to open their checkbooks for his campaign.
Many of the core supporters he counted on last time for small-dollar donations are disgruntled now. Some are personally cash-strapped. And he’s had to cancel a slew of fundraisers as he tends to the business of governing a country that some fear could slide back into a recession.
With an important reporting deadline on Friday, the sour environment explains why Obama is holding seven fundraisers on the West Coast this week — and why he held a private conference call with donors late last week aimed at bucking up his top backers.
The president offered a spirited defense of his administration’s accomplishments in those remarks, and campaign officials urged the top donors to redouble their efforts and stay focused ahead, according to a person familiar with the private call.
Obama made a similar pitch — face to face — at fundraisers at the homes of wealthy donors from Seattle to the Silicon Valley to Hollywood over the past two days, appealing to mostly small groups of big-money supporters to hang onto the loving feeling they had for him back when he first ran for president.
“I need you guys to shake off any doldrums,” the president told a Seattle audience Sunday. “I’m asking you to join me in finishing what we started in 2008.”
For all the difficulties, Obama still is outpacing his Republican rivals in the money chase by the tens of millions, and, without a primary challenge, he doesn’t have to spend what he’s raising until next year. He’s still going to raise a ton of money, which is needed for pricey TV ads and get-out-the-vote operations. He’ll be helped by the Democratic National Committee’s coffers, too.
At the same time, Democratic-aligned outside groups are banking cash to help him on the air and on the ground.
Still, there are signs that money isn’t coming nearly as quickly or easily this year as it did in 2007 and 2008.
Back then, Obama raised a jaw-dropping $750 million for the primary and general elections.
He started raising money for his re-election this spring, and, within the first three months, raised $86 million for his campaign and the DNC, whose primary mission is helping the president win. But his team has dealt with canceled fundraisers due to the protracted debt ceiling debate — some of the events on the West Coast are making up for ones previously scrapped — as well as unhappiness from liberal groups and the typical summer lull in money raising.
Mindful of the tough environment, Obama’s team set a goal of $55 million between the campaign and the party for the quarter ending Friday. If the campaign meets its goal, Obama would have to bring in roughly $120 million combined for each of the next five quarters to keep pace with his previous totals — an enormous task, given that the president’s advisers initially told supporters privately they expected to match or exceed his totals of the 2008 race.
There are signs of difficulties.
The Obama Victory Fund — a joint fundraising arm between the DNC and Obama’s campaign — raised just $3.6 million during July and August, compared with $7 million in June.
His campaign issued a “grassroots fundraising challenge” during the summer as a way to encourage activists to create their own fundraising Web pages and set individual targets. It set a goal of 20,000 donations through the program by this Friday. But by Monday morning, the website showed that the program had received only about 7,500.