Some expected more from team Obama's fundraising haul

When Obama campaign manager Jim Messina appeared in a video early Thursday morning to unveil that his team had raked in $68 million in the last part of the year for the president's reelection bid, he claimed that the fundraising was off to a “pretty good start.”

But “pretty good” seemed a far cry from the billion-dollar marker some had anticipated when the reelection campaign launched last April. And it seemed even farther from the stream of money that kept flowing to Chicago in 2008, helping then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama to first beat Democratic powerhouse Hillary Clinton and later catapult him to the presidency.

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“Quite frankly, I expected a little more,” said one Obama donor. “The president has now proven what he can do and it seemed a little disappointing. Even [Messina] seemed a little disappointed.”

The donor pointed to Messina’s warning that there’s “a challenge” the campaign is facing: that supporters think they can hold off on donating to the campaign — or that they don’t need to donate at all because the campaign will bring in something close to a billion dollars.

While the donor said the Messina video was effective in one way because it will result in the writing of another check to the campaign, “it also sent a signal to me that the campaign lacks the intensity it had in 2008.

“Something's missing,” the donor added. “I hope I'm wrong.”

President Obama’s fourth-quarter numbers are nothing to sneeze at, and best GOP front-runner Mitt Romney’s $24 million total for the quarter, though Romney is also pulling in money from his super-PAC.

However, the $42 million raised by Obama and the $24 million hauled in by the Democratic National Committee are down from the $70 million the campaign and DNC raised in the previous quarter. The total is also just below what the Bush-Cheney team raised during the equivalent period in their reelection drive.

Obama operatives have said lately in no uncertain terms that the billion-dollar marker has been fed by GOP operatives and is overhyped and untrue; last month Messina went as far as calling it “bull----“ in a campaign Web video. Quashing the billion-dollar story, some supporters say, came after some Democrats feared that the number itself turned potential donors off and could be the cause for a donation lull of sorts.

"From the public's perspective, it really doesn't sound good on a number of levels," said Susan MacManus, a professor of political science at the University of South Florida. "And in a way it would reflect an insensitivity to the economics of this country."

In the Web video on Thursday, Messina sought to dispel the rumor once again: “The billion-dollar number is completely untrue,” he said.

One Obama campaign aide, who also said the idea of a billion-dollar campaign was “bogus,” said their team had not yet set a goal for themselves in terms of total fundraising this year. They’re simply focused on expanding their donor base, the aide said.

The campaign Thursday said that more than 200,000 people gave to the campaign for the first time. 

“We met our goals for the year but we constantly remind our supporters how important it is to give right now and what we need to do to maintain that competitive advantage on the ground.”

While the GOP has set up a string of super-PACs “who want to tear down the president,” the aide said the campaign is staying focused “on what we can control.” Team Obama, the aide said, is setting its sights on small donors who have always been “essential” to the campaign. Messina said 98 percent of the most recent donations were in the amount of $250 or less.

At the same time, those in the numbers game say the fundraising haul is right where it should be. 

Jonathan Mantz, who served as Hillary Clinton’s finance director during her 2008 presidential campaign, said the fourth-quarter figures were “pretty strong numbers,” especially when the focus is still on Republicans for the time being.

“In fundraising, if you don’t know who the competition is, it’s tough to get excited,” Mantz said. 

In the end, Mantz said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the campaign matched their fundraising figures from 2008.

“I’d be pretty upbeat about where the numbers are,” Mantz added. “It seems like they’re on the right pace.”

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