Obama campaign says long GOP primary hurts president's fundraising

President Obama’s reelection campaign said Wednesday that the prolonged Republican primary is hurting its fundraising.

Obama’s campaign team said the GOP fight in general is good for Obama, but chief strategist David Axelrod said it isn’t the best for filling Obama’s coffers.

“I do think it’s easier to raise money when you have one opponent,” Axelrod said in a press call scheduled a day after the GOP Super Tuesday primaries.

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The Obama campaign raised $68 million in the last part of 2011, a low number after speculation last year — quickly tamped down by the campaign in 2012 — that Obama could raise $1 billion for his reelection campaign.

The Obama-backing super-PAC Priorities USA reported its last fundraising total in January was $59,000, before the president's campaign reversed course to acknowledge the necessity of super-PAC fundraising.

“It’s certainly the case that when you’re running against a specific opponent, particularly, if it seems to be a competitive contest ... it provides donors with a greater incentive or urgency to give,” said Anthony Corrado, an expert on campaign finance at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

But, he added that even though it is generally easier to have an opponent to “push off against,” Obama is already “investing substantial funds into the general election campaign at this point.”

And even though an incumbent president is unlikely to see the same “historic amount of enthusiasm” that Obama enjoyed in the 2008 contest, he does not have a costly nomination to win, either.

“We can expect to see the president’s campaign really pick up” once it’s clear who his opponent will be, Corrado predicted. He said Obama would likely continue to see strong fundraising, but without the huge surge he experienced in 2008.

“It’s generally the case that once the general election context is engaged, fundraising becomes broader,” he said.

That might be why Axelrod and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said they’re happy to see Mitt Romney continue to battle with Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

“The longer the Republican primary goes, the longer we have to continue to build,” Messina said.

“While they’re destroying each other, we’re building a campaign nationally,” Axelrod added.

In this case, Obama’s campaign team finds itself agreeing with Romney.

The GOP front-runner’s campaign released a memo Wednesday from political director Rich Beeson that said Romney’s rivals are helping Obama by staying in the race.

"As Gov. Romney’s opponents attempt to ignore the basic principles of math, the only person’s odds of winning they are increasing are President Obama’s,” the memo said.

Romney has said in the past that his fellow contenders have a right to stay in the race as long as they can, and Republicans — including the other GOP candidates — assert that once a nominee is chosen, the party will rally around that person.


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“It’s very hard to unify a party when 90 percent of your advertising or more is negative,” Axelrod charged, pointing at Romney as his example. “We try to appeal to the best of people and they appear to be appealing to the worst instincts.”

Obama’s campaign seems convinced that Romney, who has a big lead in the GOP delegate count, will be its opponent in the fall, and is already using him as a foil to draw a contrast with Obama.

Axelrod accused Romney of running a “tactical primary,” grinding out victories by changing his positions on a state-by-state basis and still barely squeaking out a win in states like Ohio despite outspending his opponents.

“I don’t think you can look at any of these things and say he’s showing any strength,” Axelrod said.

"In every primary, we’ve seen just how disappointed Republicans are in their candidates," Messina said, "and just how dissatisfied with their choices."

Republican disappointment in their choice of candidates was “super sized” on Super Tuesday, Messina claimed. Romney won six of the 10 states up for grabs, but Axelrod and Messina derided him for failing to winning over independents, Latinos and working-class voters. And Axelrod twice on the call raised the specter of the recent controversy around conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, calling it a “test of leadership” that Romney failed.

Democrats have pushed hard to label the popular conservative radio host as what Axelrod called “the de facto head of the Republican party,” after Limbaugh called a female Georgetown University law student who testified in favor of the White House’s new contraception mandate "slut" and a "prostitute." 

Romney addressed the issue briefly on the campaign trail, stating, "It's not the language I would have used." But he declined to weigh in further, saying his campaign is focused on jobs and the economy.

—This story was posted at 12:53 p.m. and updated at 4:27 p.m.