Done with fundraising, President Obama hits the campaign homestretch

President Obama will attend his last fundraiser of the 2012 campaign Thursday and then shift into top gear following his disastrous recent debate performance that vaporized his polling lead over challenger Mitt Romney.

With momentum in the race flipping to the Republican, sources have told The Hill the president will spend the rest of the campaign at swing-state rallies or preparing for the next two debates instead of attending more private fundraisers.

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People close to Obama’s campaign are frustrated that the president and his team have kept the media focus on the debate debacle even after Friday’s job report offered them the chance to change the narrative with news that unemployment had dipped below 8 percent.

Despite that, the political discourse has been dominated by the debate, not least because of moves made by Obama’s own campaign.

“We’ve been talking about this for five days now,” one exasperated donor said on Tuesday.

Obama repeatedly mentions the debate on the campaign trail, criticizing Romney’s remarks while adding self-deprecating comments about his own performance and ensuring a steady stream of debate stories. His campaign has also released a series of ads about the debate.

A former administration official said Obama needed to address his debate performance and not ignore the “elephant in the room,” but added, “I think it’s expired.”

The president “was smart to acknowledge it with the base, but there is a natural endpoint for that and I think the endpoint is awful soon,” the former official added.

The issue is acutely pertinent given Team Obama’s release of two videos in quick succession hearkening back to Romney’s remarks in the debate.

The first pressed the president’s point that Romney wanted a $5 trillion tax cut, an accusation that the Republican candidate denied during the debate.

The second spot, released Tuesday, used a silhouette of Big Bird to highlight Romney’s proposal to cut funding from public broadcasting.

But Romney fired back, telling an Iowa campaign rally Tuesday that amid “tough times ... you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird.”

Pundits questioned Obama’s tactics because the ads remind voters of the incumbent’s lackluster performance.

But veteran Democratic ad-maker Bill Carrick defended the campaign’s choices. 

“I think the re-litigation is valid. People still have the debate on their minds,” he said.

“On the particulars of Big Bird, there is another whole dynamic there, which is that Big Bird is extremely popular; the puppet is an iconic figure in America — so people are tweeting this, it’s on Facebook, this thing is one of those cultural phenomena that just explodes out of the grass roots.”

More generally, Team Obama remains cautiously optimistic, saying it’s in “good shape,” as the prominent donor put it, to take the campaign across the finish line.

They say that although Obama is not attending any more fundraisers, he will attract donations after the remaining debates as the campaign draws to a close.

They acknowledge that they could be outspent, as Obama warned donors in July, but take comfort from their belief that they have a better get-out-the-vote operation in the swing states.

“It’s not about how much you raise, it’s about how you spend it,” said the Obama donor. “Anything can happen at this late stage, but I’d rather be us than them.”

The Romney campaign — once sputtering in a post-convention languor — has shifted the narrative and gained momentum, erasing the president’s lead in the polls since the Republican nominee’s stellar performance during the first debate.

The first Gallup tracking poll to be based around likely voters rather than registered voters, released Tuesday, gave Romney a 2-percentage-point lead, 49 percent to 47. 

This came on top of a widely discussed Pew poll released on Monday, which showed the Republican surging to a 4-point lead. The same organization had indicated that Obama held an 8-point edge last month.

In a two-day period on the heels of the debate, the Romney campaign is said to have raised $12 million from supporters. Romney began the week with a fundraiser in Orlando, Fla., and is expected to attend one final fundraiser in the Sunshine State, on Oct. 20 in Palm Beach.

But like Team Obama, the Romney campaign is changing its focus in the final stretch of the campaign.

“We are, for the most part, out of the fundraising-events phase for Gov. Romney’s schedule,” a campaign official said Tuesday. “He will continue to be busy campaigning, talking to voters, whether in private meetings or via tele-townhalls, having debate prep and all of the other things that go into a presidential campaign.”

Asked about the money Romney raised post-debate, Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, said they also had a “strong response” from grassroots supporters and “raised more than that.” But Psaki would not offer specifics on the amount of money the campaign raked in.

In September, the Obama campaign, together with the Democratic National Committee (DNC), raised $181 million. And Obama appeared to continue that strong trend on Sunday and Monday with several fundraisers in California, one of which featured celebrities including Jon Bon Jovi and Katy Perry.

Speaking to donors in San Francisco on Monday night, Obama issued a rallying cry of sorts: “I am pretty competitive and I very much intend to win this election.

“But we’re only going to do it if everybody is almost obsessive for the next 29 days.”

The fundraising race is a close one. The combined forces of Romney and the Republican National Committee had $127 million on hand at the end of August, against almost $96 million for Obama and the DNC. 

But the Obama campaign itself has a $38 million advantage over Romney, which could be key. A candidate’s campaign can buy TV advertising more cheaply than can party committees, thanks to the vagaries of election law.

When Obama appears at the fundraiser, “Estamos Unido/We are One,” at the J.W. Marriott in Miami on Thursday, he’ll have a little help in terms of star power. He’ll be joined by actress Eva Longoria, his campaign’s national co-chairwoman.

An email sent to supporters indicating that it was to be “the final finance event” asked donors to “make sure it is a truly national event and a culminating moment of unity that celebrates our incredible work.”