Romney Leapfrogs Obama In May Fundraising

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In May, Mitt Romney outraised President Obama for the first time. The former Massachusetts governor took in about $17 million more than Mister Obama. What's the significance of the shift?

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. The fundraising war between President Obama and Mitt Romney entered a new phase today. Back in April, the two campaigns raised roughly the same amount for the first time since the presidential race began. Bur for May, it's a different story entirely. It was the first month Romney's haul was bigger than the president's. And as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, it was much bigger.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee were first out of the gate this morning. They trumpeted $60 million raised in May. That's a big total and a big jump from the campaign's April tally of $44 million. So the early headlines were a great month for Obama. That lasted a couple of hours. When the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee released their May fundraising total, the Obama-friendly headlines vanished.

RYAN WILLIAMS: We're obviously very excited with our number, raising $76.8 million.

SHAPIRO: That's Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams trumpeting a $17 million fundraising advantage over the president.

WILLIAMS: It indicates that Governor Romney's campaign is building momentum, and he is going to put together a campaign that can go toe to toe with President Obama and his formidable political machine.

SHAPIRO: In the 2008 elections, Barack Obama raised $500 million more than John McCain. These new figures make it clear that the president won't have the same money advantage this time. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt described this as an anomaly, a blip the month after Romney locked up the Republican primary.

BEN LABOLT: The Romney campaign just established their joint committee which means all of the primary donors who had written the maximum contribution during the primary can now go back and make that same contribution for the general election.

SHAPIRO: And he said it's not a new pattern. The same thing happened eight years ago.

LABOLT: Kerry out-raised Bush two to one in May 2004, shortly after he wrapped up the nomination.

SHAPIRO: One thing no campaign has faced before is the kind of outside money that's flooding the race this year. Outside groups can raise and spend unlimited sums, and in that race, Republicans are way ahead of Democrats. Conservative outside groups have already spent more than $43 million on ads attacking President Obama. Democratic outside groups have spent less than six million. Political scientist Clyde Wilcox, of Georgetown University, says the most important thing to take away from today's news is that both campaigns are raking in ridiculous amounts of cash.

CLYDE WILCOX: The story is not that Obama didn't do well. He raised $60 million. You know, put that in perspective, that would have been what Clinton would have raised in his re-election campaign during the entire primary election cycle.

SHAPIRO: Both campaigns emphasized small donations in their announcements today. The Obama folks said 98 percent of their donors gave less than $250. On the Romney side, 93 percent of donors came in under the 250 mark. The real difference comes from people writing big checks. According to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, through April, 62 percent of Romney's money came from donors who gave the maximum amount of $2,500. In contrast, only 16 percent of President Obama's money came from donors who maxed out. Michael Malbin directs the institute, and he emphasizes that fundraising alone won't determine who wins the presidency.

MICHAEL MALBIN: This race is not going to be settled based on the total amount of money that the candidates raise. They will have enough to be heard. But whether they have enough to organize, that depends on other factors besides the total amount of dollars.

SHAPIRO: Factors like personality, campaign structure, policy proposals and, above all else, the economy. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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