By Beth Fouhy and Ken Thomas
ABOVE PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks during Democratic National Committee event at the Hyatt at The Bellevue, Thursday, June 30, 2011, in Philadelphia. Obama was attending two fundraising events in Philadelphia, one with hundreds of small donors who paid $100 ticket to see him speak at a downtown hotel. He then was being hosted by Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen at his home at an event that attracted 120 people who paid at least $10,000 to attend.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Even as President Barack Obama’s re-election effort is powering toward an impressive early fundraising haul, campaign officials are trying to reassure donors who have concerns about a range of policy decisions and pace of change during Obama’s first term.
Some top donors and even members of Obama’s campaign team say that to replicate the success of 2008, the president and his advisers must reassure the fundraising community on a number of issues, from regulations on Wall Street to the Middle East peace process to the president’s refusal to endorse gay marriage.
“It’s not unfair to say the donor base, at least the significant-to-large donor base, has questions,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, told reporters Thursday. But he said Obama “has good answers for all of them.”
Obama seemed to acknowledge the dampened expectations Thursday during a fundraiser in Philadelphia, telling campaign donors that he knew there would be setbacks in governing, just like he faced setbacks during his campaign in 2008. But he appealed to supporters to show the same vigor they did more than two years ago to send him to victory.
“I understand that sometimes generating the same energy is difficult,” he said at an event later. “We’ve gone through two years of very difficult work.” He then added, with a chuckle: “My hair is grayer. I’m not as young and vibrant as I was.”
Obama’s team hopes to raise $60 million for the campaign and the Democratic National Committee when the latest fundraising quarter ends Thursday. Obama and the Republicans competing for the GOP nomination will file quarterly reports that will be disclosed by mid-July, offering the first extended look at each campaign’s financial health.
Obama is expected to demonstrate a whopping fundraising advantage over the entire GOP field, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is expected to post as much as $20 million. But Obama’s team is leaving little to chance, hoping to prove through fundraising success the president is strongly positioned for the campaign ahead.
“Come next fall, people might not remember this date — or make the connection between the strength of our campaign then and the steps we took in these early months,” campaign manager Jim Messina told supporters in an e-mail. “But anyone worth their salt in politics knows (Thursday) is one of the most important tests we’ll face as a campaign this year.”
As it seeks both big checks and small donations, however, Obama’s finance operation has had to mend fences with donors who are ambivalent or even angry about some policy matters.
“I can’t think of a constituency that doesn’t feel frustrated,” said Democratic National Committee member Robert Zimmerman, an Obama donor. “But at the end of the day, this is a president who provides the best hope for the values donors share.”
First up: the Wall Street community, many of whom recoiled when Obama called them “fat cats” whose misdeeds led to the 2008 financial crisis. Many also have resisted his efforts to enact financial regulatory reform.
Obama has retained a core group of fundraisers on Wall Street, including Orin Kramer of Boston Provident, Mark Gallogly of Centerbridge Partners, Marc Lasry of Avenue Capital and Blair Effron at Centerview Partners. But some bankers who supported Obama in 2008 have stayed on the sidelines, prompting outreach by top campaign officials.
There have been signs of a thaw.
An April fundraiser at the New York apartment of ex-New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, a former Goldman Sachs executive, sold out two weeks in advance and raised more than $2 million from donors largely representing the financial industry. Obama also drew a large audience at a fundraiser last week at Daniel, a top New York City restaurant.
In March, the DNC organized a meeting for Obama and 30 Wall Street and business leaders at the White House. The gathering prompted questions from Republicans and good government groups over whether it blurred the lines between the campaign and official White House business.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, in response to a question, said Thursday that Obama had also met with DNC members in February at the White House residence. Carney said “all presidents have meetings with their supporters in the residence” and said the event was a reception for DNC members who were in Washington for the committee’s annual meeting.
Another target audience for the campaign has been gay and lesbian supporters, who were among the president’s most enthusiastic and deep-pocketed donors in 2008.
But Obama’s position on gay marriage — he supports civil unions but not full marriage rights — has chilled some of that enthusiasm. In a New York fundraiser with the gay community last week, a handful of people shouted out “Marriage!” during the president’s remarks. Obama responded, “I heard you guys.”
“We’ve had a roller coaster ride with Barack Obama,” New York gay rights activist Ethan Geto said. “He was terrific in the campaign, and he said he would get a lot of things done in the first year. When that didn’t happen, people understandably were disappointed.”
The campaign organized a major conference call with gay donors soon after Obama announced his re-election, with California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who as San Francisco mayor bucked state law to allow gays to marry there in 2004, talking up Obama’s successes on gay rights.
Many gay donors were reassured when Obama signed legislation repealing the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevented gays from serving openly in the military. The holdouts are those who view legalized marriage to be the paramount issue, Geto said.
Republicans have tried to attract Jewish support following Obama’s suggestion that the future borders of a Palestinian state and a Jewish state be drawn on the basis of Israel’s pre-1967 war frontiers, an approach rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Obama, in a fundraiser with Jewish donors in Washington, said they shared the same goals, even if there might be “tactical disagreements” along the way.
The money raised this quarter will help jumpstart the Obama campaign’s organizational efforts, which are seen as increasingly important as the economy remains stagnant and Obama’s standing among some voting groups has fallen. The money could determine how Obama’s team deploys resources in many battleground states where mobilization and voter registration will be critical.
Obama’s team has more than 300 so-called bundlers on its national finance committee who are being asked to raise at least $350,000 apiece for the campaign — a sizable increase from the $100,000 top donors were asked to raise in 2008. Several other potential bundlers are being recruited to join the team.
Chasing a broad donor base, the campaign said it had attracted more than 480,000 donors prior to Thursday’s deadline. To boost interest, the campaign reprised a popular approach in 2008, raffling off dinner with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to anyone who donates $5 or more.
Obama was attending two fundraising events in Philadelphia, one with hundreds of small donors who paid $100 ticket to see him speak at a downtown hotel. He then was hosted by Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen at his Mount Airy home at an event that attracted 120 people who paid at least $10,000 to attend.
First lady Michelle Obama also has hit the fundraising circuit, headlining three events in Los Angeles earlier this month, including one at the home of interior designer Michael Smith that raised more than $1 million. She was holding three DNC events Thursday in New England — a luncheon in Boston followed by a stop in Burlington, Vt., to attend a reception and dinner.
Other big events are on the horizon. Top donors say a large fundraiser in Chicago to celebrate Obama’s 50th birthday on Aug. 4 is in the works, along with other events.