WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign and its Democratic allies raised $181 million in September for his re-election effort, the largest total that either side has announced yet in the 2012 campaign.
The big September number and a good jobs report on Friday that showed unemployment dipping to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent shifted some attention from Obama's lackluster debate performance on Wednesday against Republican Mitt Romney.
Helping buoy Obama's fundraising in September was his party's convention and a modest lead in the polls over Romney, whose campaign was plagued by his remark that the 47 percent of the population who receive government funds are "victims."
Obama's campaign said on Saturday that more than 1.8 million people donated to it last month. Of that, 567,000 were new donors. A vast majority of the donations - 98 percent - were $250 or less. The average contribution was $53.
"That's by far our biggest month yet," campaign manager Jim Messina said in an email to supporters, urging them to chip in even more as the November 6 election draws near.
Obama needs a lift after a surprisingly tame performance at the debate shook his campaign's sense that it was closing in on election victory.
However, Romney's strong showing in Denver did little to convince more voters he understands them or is a "good person," according to a Reuters/Ipsos survey released on Saturday.
The Democratic president is ahead of his challenger on character attributes that can win over undecided voters who have not been swayed on tangible policy points, according to the online poll.
On the broad question of who they will vote for in November, Obama kept his 2 percentage point lead among likely voters - 47 percent to 45 percent - in the online survey.
The gap was unchanged from Friday, when Obama led 46 percent to 44 percent in the tracking poll. His lead was 6 percentage points before the two men first went head-to-head in Denver.
"We haven't seen additional gains from Romney. This suggests to me that this is more of a bounce than a permanent shift," Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said.
Romney, enjoying a boost of support in many polls after his debate performance, addressed a boisterous crowd of 6,500 in the city of Apopka in central Florida, a state that will be critical in whether he wins the White House.
Romney kept up the pressure on Obama over the U.S. economy a day after the jobless rate dropped below 8 percent for the first time since Obama took office. He said if the size of the workforce was the same now as it was in January 2009, the rate would be much higher, but that many have given up looking for jobs.
"If we calculated, by the way, our unemployment rate, in a way that was consistent with the way it was calculated when he came into office it would be a different number. You see ... if the percentage of the American population who were in the workforce were the same today as the day he was elected our unemployment rate would be above 11 percent," Romney said.
The debate gave Romney a financial boost. A spokeswoman said his team raised $12 million online in less than 48 hours after the Republican criticized Obama in front of 67 million television viewers for his handling of the economy.
The former Massachusetts governor's campaign has not yet released its September fundraising figures, which are also expected to be high.
Both candidates continue to fight for funds even in the final month of the campaign, reflecting the importance of deep coffers to pay for the last flurry of expensive advertising.
In this bitterly contested race for the White House, on track to be the costliest in U.S. history, campaigns must fill their war chests with enough cash to make expensive media buys and wage on-the-ground operations in the nine or so swing states likely to determine the outcome of the election.
Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee raised more than $114 million in August, just beating Romney's $111 million. That followed three months when Romney out-raised the incumbent.
Obama's September haul was still slightly lower than four years ago, when his campaign and the DNC together brought in $193 million.
Obama advisers are proud of his campaign's base of low-dollar donors, believing that gives the president an advantage, especially at the end of the election cycle when supporters can keep giving even if they have donated before.
Since the campaign officially kicked off in April 2011, 3.9 million people have donated, it said.
Obama's poor debate may increase the need for infusions of cash to fund ads in swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Iowa.
He leaves on Sunday for a fundraising trip to California in an effort to make October a strong month as well.
Former President Bill Clinton will join Obama at an event at a private residence in Los Angeles to thank longtime donors, the campaign said.
Obama then speaks at an event with some 6,000 people that will feature music from singers Jon Bon Jovi and Jennifer Hudson as well as remarks from actor George Clooney.
The president will then head to a fundraising dinner with roughly 150 people who are paying $25,000 each to attend.
Obama was in Washington on Saturday and had no public events scheduled. Romney spent the morning at a Florida hotel with Ohio Senator Rob Portman preparing for his second debate with Obama on October 16.
Republicans have had greater success in raising funds from outside groups known as Super PACs or political action committees, which can spend unlimited amounts on advertising.
Additional reporting by Alina Selyukh and Steve Holland; Editing by Alistair Bell, Xavier Briand and Paul Simao