Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press
President Barack Obama greets audience members after speaking at the White House Forum on American Latino Heritage, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011, at the Interior Department in Washington.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's campaign raised more than $70 million combined for his re-election and the Democratic Party during the summer, an amount that gives him a clear financial advantage over his Republican rivals even as faces economic and political headwinds.
The fundraising total announced Thursday exceeds a goal set by the campaign of $55 million combined for the July-September fundraising period but is about $16 million less than Obama raised during the April-June quarter.
Obama has dealt with declining poll numbers and a weakened economy during the summer, prompting the president to recently call himself the "underdog" in the presidential race. Campaign officials had said they would raise less because of canceled fundraisers during the summer's debt ceiling negotiations and a typical summertime lull in raising cash.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an e-mail to supporters that more than 600,000 people donated to the campaign in the most recent quarter, more than the previous three months. He said more than 980,000 people have given money to the campaign, and in the most recent quarter, 98 percent of the donors gave $250 or less, with an average donation of $56.
"Getting to a million grassroots donors isn't just a huge accomplishment this early in the campaign. It's our answer to our opponents, the press, and anyone who wants to know whether the president's supporters have his back," Messina said.
The numbers include $42.8 million for Obama's campaign and $27.3 million for the Democratic National Committee, which will help Obama's re-election effort next year. Obama raised $86 million combined during the April-June quarter.
Obama still leads his Republican rivals in fundraising by tens of millions and can save most of it for next year because he does not face a primary opponent.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney leads the Republican field in fundraising, pulling in more than $18 million in his first three months of campaigning. He is not expected to surpass that mark for the past three months but should lead the pack in cash on hand.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry raised $17 million in his first seven weeks of campaigning and had $15 million in the bank. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a favorite of libertarians, collected $8 million during the summer after raising $4.5 million in his first three months.
The fundraising by the presidential field doesn't include money being raised by independent organizations trying to get their preferred nominee elected by raising and spending unlimited amounts of money to run ads supporting their candidate or attacking a rival. Perry and Romney have at least one super PAC working to enhance their candidacies while another super PAC is backing Obama's re-election bid.
Obama advisers have told donors privately they hope to match or exceed the $750 million they raised in 2008, a staggering amount that would help the president pay for expensive TV ads and a massive get-out-the-vote operation. But to match the amount they raised the last time, Obama would need to bring in nearly $120 million combined for each of the next five quarters to keep pace.
Messina said the campaign was using the money to build its operation. He said the campaign has opened up three new field offices every week during the past three months, and volunteers and organizers have made 3 million phone calls and in-person visits to voters.
comments on this story
"We're up against a Republican Party and special interest-funded groups that will spend hundreds of millions of dollars spreading any message that they believe will defeat the president and roll back our efforts to build a fairer economy that rewards hard work and responsibility, not large corporations," Messina said.
Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said Obama would "need every penny he can raise because voters don't believe he has the ability to turn the economy around or create much-needed jobs."
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas