WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has shored up support from mid-level donors in some of the most economically distraught areas of the country, even as his Republican challengers have made jobs a central issue heading into next year's election.
An Associated Press analysis of Obama's fundraising since April found his supporters opened their wallets more often this election cycle in places with the worst unemployment rates. That's compared with the same period four years ago, just months before the country was thrust into a major recession.
The new numbers suggest GOP candidates will have to make a harder sell on the gravity of the nation's 9.1 percent unemployment rate, an issue that has bedeviled Obama throughout his term.
Republicans in Congress have opposed the White House on specifics, especially tax increases, in a jobs bill aimed at pulling the economy out of a nosedive.
While Obama reported this week his campaign and the Democratic party raised a combined $70 million for his re-election bid, similar fundraising numbers totals for the GOP field point to growing support for candidates promising to change the country's direction.
Republican contenders raised a total of roughly $52 million, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney taking the lead in drawing support from across the country.
Republican candidates have missed few chances in recent weeks to point fingers at Obama and his jobs record.
"Right now, America's in crisis," said Romney at an Oct. 11 Republican debate devoted exclusively to the economy. "You want to have someone who's smart, who has experience, who knows how the financial services sector works, who knows how to protect American jobs — and I do. I've done it."
Among Obama's supporters, however, there has been an uptick in donations from both Democratic- and Republican-leaning counties, even as more than one in 10 people are out of work in those places.
In the Detroit area, where unemployment has exceeded 14 percent, supporters wrote hundreds of more checks — albeit in smaller amounts when adjusting for inflation — to Obama's campaign than the same period in 2007.
The AP's review drew upon unemployment figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Census Bureau estimates, excluding donations from interest groups. Although campaign finance reports don't capture donors who gave less than $200 per election cycle, the donations reflect in part the attitudes among supports who give in the $200 to $2,500 range, making up nearly 40 percent of Obama's fundraising this period.
"I believe in the ideas that he has for the country," said donor Barbara Weeda, a 70-year-old retiree from Joshua Tree, Calif., home to San Bernardino county and its 13 percent jobless rate. "How else is he going to get elected than to just dig in and help as much as you can?" she said, saddened at what she sees as a lack of cooperation in Washington negotiating a jobs bill.
The AP's analysis found not only a broadening of support for Obama — he received cash for the first time from parts of the Plains, the Rockies and the Midwest — but also a wide appeal for top GOP contenders Romney and Perry.
Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in an email to supporters this week that more than 600,000 people donated to the campaign since July, more than the previous three-month cycle. "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," he said.
Campaign finance reports released Friday and Saturday revealed the first complete picture of the presidential field, showing a haves and have-nots among the Republican candidates. Romney and Perry brought in more than $30 million in combined contributions; other candidates raised remarkably less, and some were mired in debt.
Still, the campaign figures didn't capture the tens of millions raised by new, outside groups known as super political action committees, which can collect unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Obama and leading GOP candidates all have super PACs working in their favor, not counting groups like GOP-leaning American Crossroads that have raised hundreds of millions ahead of the general election.
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott and Ken Thomas contributed to this report. Follow Jack Gillum at http://twitter.com/jackgillum