CHICAGO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is raising millions of dollars for his re-election campaign, keeping the support of big and small donors despite the sputtering economy and slumping opinion poll numbers.
Amid high unemployment and fears of a second recession, Obama has faced withering criticism from within his own party for seeming to give in too easily to Republicans in Congress and not taking a firmer stand on issues such as protecting the environment.
His approval ratings have been hovering at about 43 percent and polls show he would face a tough fight to defeat Texas Governor Rick Perry or former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the two top contenders for the Republican presidential nomination to oppose Obama in November 2012.
His campaign has indicated that fund-raising slipped in the June-September quarter. And there has been discontent among some 2008 donors, with some Wall Street cash shifting to Romney, co-founder of buyout firm Bain Capital, a sign of business unease with Obama’s tenure.
But if Obama lacks the rock-star status he had four years ago, his events are still selling out and his fund-raising machine is outstripping 2008. Donors said the Obama camp is worried about the country’s finances, not the campaign‘s.
“I haven’t heard anyone outwardly worried. It seems like they are on track to hit their goals,” said a top fund-raiser close to the campaign, requesting anonymity to speak freely.
“Put it this way: it is not money that they are worried about. They would trade all the money for better economic data,” he said.
The Democratic president still attracts the army of low-dollar givers who helped push him to the White House in 2008, and the loyalty of enough big contributors that analysts anticipate he will amass a $1 billion campaign warchest.
“Some of these people may still be disappointed, but they’re not going to be ready to write Barack Obama off,” said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst in Washington.
Obama, the first black U.S. president, is a historic figure whose personal popularity outstrips his approval ratings. Known as a strong campaigner, he offers as president constant media attention and an access to power that appeals to big donors, many of whom are concerned that the Republican field is tacking too far toward the right.
“We’ve heard a lot of concern about the right wing Republican agenda, what many people refer to as ‘taking the country backwards’ or ‘in the wrong direction,'” said Andrew Spahn, a Los Angeles based consultant who is advising DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg as he raises money for Obama’s re-election campaign.
Katzenberg, who hosted two sold out, big-dollar fundraisers in the spring, has committed to pumping $500,000 for the Obama campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Obama appealed to his base strongly on Monday by laying out a $3.6 trillion plan to cut U.S. budget deficits partly by raising taxes on the rich, which Republicans rejected as “class warfare” and a political stunt.
Some major Democratic supporters, including big labor unions, have responded positively to the plan. Opinion polls also show voter misgivings about Washington’s handling of the economy extend to Republicans in Congress, as well as Obama.
“In the end, every American is frustrated with the economy and the way governance works, but that all doesn’t fall on the president’s shoulders,” said Howard Bragman, a Hollywood publicist and longtime Democratic activist.
“His base hasn’t left him and they’re the ones who are the organizational spine of this campaign,” he said.
Obama raised up to $2.8 million at fundraisers in Washington on Thursday and millions more on Monday in New York, where he warned donors of a “very perilous path” if his debt reduction plan is not passed. More fundraisers are on tap in New York and California in the coming days.
Member of his team stress that Obama’s campaign had more than 520,000 individual donors in the second quarter of 2011, more than it had for all of 2007, and of those 260,000 had never given before.
Obama’s fundraising far outstripped any of his Republican rivals in the second quarter of 2011, as he and the Democratic National Committee raked in $86 million. Romney, who led all Republicans, raised $18 million.
Campaigns do not have to release their third-quarter fundraising totals until October 15, but Obama’s set a goal on September 9 of raising $55 million between June and September, to benefit the re-election efforts and the Democratic National Committee.
Presidential fundraising typically wanes in the summer the year before the election, and it was hit more this year because Obama canceled a series of events in July during protracted debt negotiations with Republicans in Congress.
Additional reporting by Kim Dixon, writing by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Alistair Bell