By Amie Parnes and Justin Sink - 08/06/12 10:16 PM EDT
The Obama campaign sought to downplay fundraising expectations on Monday as some top donors expressed exasperation that the president had been outraised for the third month in a row by Mitt Romney’s campaign.
“We know we will be outspent — that’s just the reality, ” Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, told reporters as the president traveled to Connecticut for two high-dollar fundraisers — including one by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — estimated to bring in $2 million.
But some donors for President Obama’s reelection bid expressed frustration on Monday, saying that the campaign needed to be more competitive.
“I keep telling people we need to step it up a bit,” said one longtime Obama donor. “Now’s the time. Not two months from now.
“We’re still winning in the overall game, but we can’t be complacent,” the donor added. “We need to keep throwing in more money.”
The Romney campaign raised $101.3 million in July, topping the Obama campaign’s $75 million haul. It marked the second straight month that the GOP standard-bearer had passed the $100 million mark.
The July efforts leave the Romney campaign in strong shape with three months left until Election Day. The campaign, Republican National Committee and state party groups have $185.9 million cash on hand, according to a statement touting the war chest.
“Once again we see that for many people, this is more than a campaign, it is a cause,” said Spencer Zwick, the Romney Victory National Finance chairman. “We are well on track to raise the money to be successful in November.”
In a series of messages on Twitter Monday, the Obama campaign highlighted strengths on its end. More than 200,000 people who gave in July were “entirely new donors who didn’t give before in this election cycle or in 2008,” a tweet on Obama’s Twitter account said.
“Every bit helps,” another tweet on the president’s feed said. “98% of our contributions in July were $250 or less, for an average donation of $53.49.”
Don Peebles, a member of Obama’s finance committee, said he feels good about the president’s numbers.
“He’s making a strong showing with a very large pool of donors,” Peebles said. “Those are very significant numbers, and if Romney is outraising Obama the past couple of months, it’s not enough time to catch up."
Campaign finance experts say that Monday’s numbers are further indication that the president's campaign team should be worried about its fundraising operation — and might need to start making tough choices about when and how to spend.
“Everything we hear from the president's camp is they're unhappy and perhaps surprised in their fundraising operation,” said Michael Malbin, the executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute. “It took awhile for the Romney fundraising surge to happen, but when it happened, it happened strongly.”
That money, says Tad Devine, a senior adviser to the Gore and Kerry campaigns, will make a real difference down the stretch.
“The fact that Romney and his side are raising so much money is a real advantage for him in the campaign,” said Devine. “The group in the middle, which is small but will be decisive, will be influenced by the spending of the campaigns on advertisements, and it's incumbent on both campaigns to stay online and not cede any of the venues.”
Still, there are some encouraging signs for the Obama campaign. While July marked the third consecutive month the president was outpaced by his challenger, there's not evidence that Romney is pulling ahead to a decisive advantage, as Obama did over John McCain in 2008.
“Overall, Romney is going to be in a much better position than McCain, who was massively outspent,” Devine said. “But I don't think he's going to have the same advantage that the president had over McCain. I don't mean to diminish it — I think it's a real advantage — but he's not bringing in three or four times as much money.”
And at a certain point, general advertising and general television and radio spending shows diminishing returns — which is where the president's vaunted ground game can come into play.
“There's a definite diminishing-return effect from mass advertising,” said Malbin. “At some point voters will have heard enough, they'll have taken in the information they need, they'll be filtering future information in ways that have already been established.”
Furthermore, the president continues to outpace Romney in terms of small-dollar donors who are most likely to volunteer for the campaign, encourage friends to vote and give again as the race heats up.
“There are going to be a lot of big moments when something happens on the campaign trail, and those moments create huge opportunities for a flood of money to come into the campaign,” Devine said.
An ongoing fear for the Obama campaign is the lack of super-PAC money on its side.
“It's the one constant source of frustration,” said one Democrat who is working with outside groups to help reelect Obama. “We're watching the other side rack up nine figures and we need more money on our side to drive the narrative in ads in swing states.”