WASHINGTON -- President Obama's campaign may have just passed its one millionth donor for the 2012 season, but one portion of his 2008 fundraising class remains notably absent: the majority of his original big-dollar bundlers.
Of about 189 bundlers who hauled in over $200,000 each for Obama's first campaign, some 108 have not returned to the ranks of his top money team, a review of Obama's latest "volunteer fundraiser" list finds.
It's a continuation of a trend noted in reports on Obama's finance numbers in the previous quarter, including one write-up that found Obama's original idealistic buck rakers fleeing the "machine" they see his campaign becoming for this election.
Still, Team Obama notes that it has more than replaced bundlers it lost from the last election cycle, including scores of power-brokers whose roots go deep in Democratic politics, with many veterans of the Clinton political ATM. And they argue that other new voters and donors are rapidly engaging with the still-new 2012 push.
Campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan pointed out that the millionth donor contributed to the re-election drive this week -- six months after the campaign launched -- while it took more than a year to hit that milestone in 2008.
"One million new and longtime supporters are mobilized in support of the President’s campaign more than 375 days before the election," Hogan wrote in an email statement. "In the third quarter alone we raised from more than 606,027 Americans, and 257,635 of those donors had never given before, providing a significant opportunity for growth in the year ahead.”
That doesn't address the new, establishment feel to the once-insurgent's new money operation, but current Obama fundraisers are not blind to the fact that their makeup is dramatically different this time around.
The fundraisers say that's just a reflection of reality -- not a sign that idealistic Democrats have bailed out on the man they helped to make the commander-in-chief three years ago.
"You really have a different dynamic that exists," said Robert Zimmerman, who raised money for Hillary Clinton before backing Obama in 2008. "It's really defined by being a challenger versus being an incumbent. I think it's a tougher challenge to be defending than to just be out there advocating," he said, referring to the simple fact that any president has a record that supporters will inevitably have some problems with.
And it's true for Obama, who has left many of his original supporters shaking their heads over what they see as unfortunate compromises on issues ranging from health care to tax cuts for the rich to the pace of withdrawal from wars.
The campaign is acutely aware of the issues, Zimmerman suggested.
"Everyone had frustrations in the first term, and many in the fundraising community were frustrated with the pace of the recovery, frustrated with their agenda items not being addressed fully," he said, insisting that Team Obama has adjusted, as seen in two strong quarters of fundraising. "To the credit of [Campaign Manager] Jim Messina in particular, they've done a very good job of touring the country and re-engaging their donor community, many of whom did not feel engaged in the first two years."
A campaign aide echoed that sentiment, pointing out that the campaign took in $86 million in the second quarter and $70 million in the most recent, including the joint fundraising efforts of the Democratic National Committee. The campaign says the pace is ahead of their targets. By comparison, the campaign operation that broke records in President Bush's second election drive took in just over $50 million in the second quarter the year before the contest.
Zimmerman says the enthusiasm among Democrats -- including donors and bundlers who have not returned yet -- is only growing as the election nears and Democrats become less focused on perceived shortcomings of Obama's presidency, and more alert to the contrast with an opponent.
"When you then move from making this race a referendum on Barack Obama to a choice between Barack Obama versus one of the right-wing Republicans, that has energized the Democratic base enormously and put everything in the proper perspective," Zimmerman said. "Politics is not about absolutes. Politics is about choices."
As far as the big bundlers who might not return, Zimmerman suggested that perhaps some realized fundraising is not all it's cracked up to be, and many may simply have found that it's hard work.
"What many who are new to fundraising find out is that it's not that elite in the least, and that it's more fun to be a donor than a bundler," said Zimmerman, who's done such work for the last four White House campaigns and bemoans becoming a "concierge" every four years to donors seeking tickets to convention soirees. "So, welcome to my life."
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