Obama Fundraising Outpaces GOP Challengers

President Obama had a tough summer in the polls, but not in the fundraising world. His campaign and the Democratic National Committee say they raised $70 million for the quarter that ended Sept. 30. Meanwhile, former pizza CEO Herman Cain leads the GOP field in the latest polling. Robert Siegel talks to NPR's Mara Liasson, who analyzes the numbers.

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GUY RAZ, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel. President Obama had a tough summer in the opinion polls but evidently not in fundraising. His campaign says it will report raising more than $70 million over the quarter that ended on September 30th. That number exceeds the campaign's goal by $15 million, and that's saying something. Most of the president's GOP competitors didn't even raise a total of $15 million in that quarter. In fact, the president appears to have raised more than all the Republicans combined. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is here now. Hi, Mara.

MARA LIASSON: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: What does this big money haul say about the president's political strength?

LIASSON: Well, it says that despite his low approval ratings across the country and despite news of demoralization and apathy among the Republican base, his fundraising base is strong and energized, and his donor base are people who still feel enthusiastic about the president. And they're not happy about what Republicans are doing in Washington, and that's motivating them to give him some money.

SIEGEL: But looking at the Republicans, what about once we get past the primaries? Do you think the president will still have a big advantage over them in the general election?

LIASSON: When there's an actual Republican nominee, no, I don't. He and the Democratic Party did get $70 million this quarter. They got $86 million last quarter. He's on his way to signing up one million donors. But when there is a Republican nominee, there's going to be a tremendous amount of money from Wall Street, which appears to have turned against Obama and because of the new Citizens United ruling where rich individuals and corporations can give unlimited undisclosed donations to both sides. I think this will be a very competitive election money-wise, and he will not have an advantage.

SIEGEL: Mara, I want to ask you about that conference call yesterday in which the Obama campaign talked about one Republican candidate in particular, and that's Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts. What was happening there?

LIASSON: That's right. That was the first time this has happened. David Axelrod, who's the chief strategist for the campaign, held this conference call. It was about two things. The White House has been itching to have an opponent, to have a foil, so they can get on with the business of making the presidential election a choice instead of a referendum. Also, they're worried that Romney is getting a free pass. There hasn't really been another candidate who's challenging him on his views, which Axelrod said yesterday were stunningly inconsistent.

But the White House is watching with some dismay as Romney seems to be getting a clear path to the nomination. He's getting to define himself as the most serious adult Republican candidate. He hasn't had to pander to the Tea Party much this year. He hasn't had to move to the right to get the nomination because no one is challenging him on the shifts he's made over the years on what many people think is his inauthentic conservative views. So that means Romney is free to spend his time in the primaries, setting himself up for the general election and keeping his aim on President Obama, and that's not good for the White House.

SIEGEL: But for all of Mitt Romney's supposed - the inevitability of his nomination, Republican voters just - are clearly still shopping around. And at the moment, Godfather's Pizza - the former chief executive, Herman Cain is actually in front of Romney in the polls.

LIASSON: In one poll, in The Wall Street Journal poll, he is. Perry - Rick Perry's support has collapsed. It seems to have all gone to Cain. Romney is stuck at 23 percent. His support doesn't budge. But I think, for the moment, it tells you that Republican voters are still looking for an authentic conservative voice, and, for the moment, large numbers of them think they're hearing it in Herman Cain. He's plainspoken. He has a plan that's simple and bold. He says he's Main Street to Mitt Romney's Wall Street, and he's capitalizing on that populist energy in the Republican Party right now. He's kind of the Ross Perot in the race.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

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