The Washington Post:
President Obama is struggling to draw in big-dollar donations, with half as many people writing large checks to his campaign than at this point four years ago.
Obama is outpacing his Republican rivals in fundraising overall, and his advisers have concentrated on amassing small-dollar backers, part of a strategy to get more people invested in the reelection effort. At the end of January, 1.4 million people had donated to the Obama campaign, responding to appeals for contributions as small as $2.
But Obama lags behind Republican front-runner Mitt Romney in finding donors willing to give $2,000 or more — a surprising development for a sitting president, and one that could signal more worrisome financial problems heading into the general election. At this point in the last election cycle, Obama had received such large donations from more than 23,000 supporters, more than double the 11,000 who have given him that much this time. President George W. Bush had more than four times the number of big donations at this point in his reelection.
Democrats see a variety of possible explanations for such a dramatic drop in big-dollar contributions. The ailing economy has dampened fundraising overall. Some wealthy liberals and Wall Street executives alike have grown disaffected with the president over time. And the extended Republican primary has shined a spotlight on a field of potential rivals that many Democrats believe Obama will easily beat.
(...) Republicans and Democrats alike thought that Obama would have a big financial advantage over Republicans this fall given his record-breaking 2008 fundraising and his status as the sitting president. But the trend of slackening big-donor support is the latest in a series of indications that the 2012 money battle is going to be much tighter than once imagined.
Some major Obama bundlers said in interviews that they are having trouble drumming up the same level of excitement that surrounded his bid four years ago. At the start of that campaign, Obama was an underdog running against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary and there was a potent sense of urgency to fundraising appeals.
(...) Obama campaign officials describe his donation base as an asset; smaller donors means a more grass-roots vibe, they said. “Our fundraising numbers reflect the grass-roots support the president has received from across the country,” campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan said. “We are building the largest grass-roots campaign in history, and these donations will go towards investing a ground-up, national organization.”
Still, recent moves by the Obama campaign have suggested that it may be eventually pinched for cash. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and White House adviser David Plouffe told top congressional Democrats that Obama and the DNC don’t have any money to spare for House and Senate races.
Obama also recently changed course and asked top fundraisers to support a super PAC acting on his behalf. He has criticized the million-dollar contributions that fuel super PACs, a new type of political group, but decided that he couldn’t afford to take the beating from PACs on the right without responding in kind. So far, the main super PAC behind Obama — Priorities USA — has posted anemic fundraising, in contrast to the millions of dollars conservative groups have already begun spending against him.
At the same time, the Obama campaign has been burning through money at a furious pace. In January, for example, the Obama campaign spent $17.7 million while raising only $11.9 million. That has left Obama with about half as much money in the bank as Bush had eight years ago ahead of his successful reelection.
At the end of January, President Obama and the DNC had $74 million on hand for the period before the conventions, according to the latest Federal Election Commission reports. Bush and the RNC had $144 million at the same point in 2004.
Some bundlers have decided to stop supporting Obama entirely, including several in the finance sector, which has been hit with stringent new regulations pushed by Democrats.
“There’s a lot of disaffection and buyer’s remorse among the people I know,” said one 2008 Obama fundraiser, who is no longer working for the president and asked not to be named in order to speak freely. “At the end of the day would they vote for him? Maybe, but they’re certainly going to be less active.”
(...) “There is an issue with Democratic complacency,” said one Democratic strategist not working for the campaign. “Far too many Democrats think that the president can’t lose to Mitt Romney — and he definitely could.”