Can Obama Campaign Reignite Small Donors' Passion

The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee jointly raised $70 million in the third quarter for the president's re-election. The announcement came from President Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina just days ahead of the filing deadline.

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Here at home, all of the presidential candidates must file quarterly fundraising reports tomorrow at the Federal Election Commission. The campaigns are busy trying to spin the numbers before they are disclosed, and President Obama's campaign announced yesterday that over the summer it raised more than $70 million. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The total includes $27 million for the Democratic National Committee, relatively easy money to get, thanks to a high contribution limit; and about 43 million from the Obama for America committee. It's a bit less than the spring quarter, also less than George W. Bush raised at this point in his reelection campaign. One big question is whether the Obama operation can reignite the passion of small donors. In 2004, Mr. Obama shattered records by raising $745 million. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: 2008, not 2004.] A significant chunk of it, although not most of it, came from legions of small givers. This year's campaign manager, Jim Messina, said yesterday that 98 percent of the money last quarter came in contributions of $250 or less. But political scientist Robin Kolodny says a little skepticism is warranted.

ROBIN KOLODNY: Lots of them are less than $250. But they won't stay that way.

OVERBY: Kolodny follows campaign finance at Temple University in Philadelphia. She says President Obama has a real talent for making people into repeat givers.

KOLODNY: He's done an excellent job of getting people to sign onto these sort of automatic debit payment plans.

OVERBY: So this month's $250 donor might be next month's donor of $500 year-to-date, and four months from could be a thousand-dollar giver. Not a small donor by anyone's standards. And Kolodny says it's far from a sure thing that Mr. Obama can recreate his 2008 fundraising engine in a year of bad poll numbers and a limping economy.

KOLODNY: He may have hit all the people who are the easy donors to get because they all gave to him before. The question is, can he expand from that?

OVERBY: The Republican contenders locked in a primary battle are expected to report much smaller numbers. Texas Governor Rick Perry is likely to have the most - somewhere above $17 million. But as the White House money race accelerates, there's a huge unknown: the new organizations called super-PACs. They can raise unlimited sums of money from individuals, unions and corporations; and there are super-PACs supporting all of the major candidates. They don't have to say how much they've got or where it came from until just before the primary balloting starts. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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Correction Oct. 14, 2011

We mistakenly said that candidate Obama had raised $745 million in 2004. It was actually in 2008.