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Romney’s fund-raising outpaces president’s

Obama’s aides use news to press donors

Whitney Curtis/Getty Images

Mitt Romney campaigned Thursday in St. Louis, Mo. The Republican may defy the notion that an incumbent will have a financial edge.

Mitt Romney’s joint fund-raising committee outraised President Obama’s by nearly 30 percent in May, marking what appears to be the first time since 2007 that Obama raised less than a rival.

Both Obama and Romney have formed joint committees that include their parties’ national committees and select state committees. Romney’s raked in $76.8 million last month, besting Obama’s $60 million. The campaigns disclosed the totals on Twitter Thursday morning, but the candidates’ own shares of the money will not become public until a June 20 Federal Election Commission filing deadline.

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“It is clear that people aren’t willing to buy into ‘hope and change’ again,’’ Romney finance chairman Spencer Zwick said in a statement. “Voters are making an investment because they believe that it will benefit the country.’’

The decisive fund-raising win by Republicans means Obama collected less than a rival candidate for the first time since the October-to-December filing period of 2007, when he was still the junior senator from Illinois, vying for the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton. During that three-month stretch, Clinton outraised Obama, $26.8 million to $22.8 million.

Since then, Obama has been the fund-raising leader in every presidential campaign filing period, according to FEC records.

“It was just a matter of time,’’ said Pietro S. Nivola, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “I’m not surprised because Romney is a very competitive candidate because of the economic situation.’’

The Obama campaign also viewed the fund-raising loss as an inevitable turn of events. In an e-mail to supporters that bore the subject line “We got beat,’’ Obama campaign manager Jim Messina wrote: “We knew this moment would come when Romney secured the nomination. What happens next is up to you. Help close the gap right now - make a donation of $3 or more.’’

However notable Romney’s May donation haul, it will do little to erode Obama’s massive overall lead. Through the end of April, the president had collected $168.6 million in contributions, compared with Romney’s $98.2 million.

More important, Obama boasted a staggering advantage in cash on hand - $115.2 million to $9.2 million - because he, unlike Romney, was spared the expense of a primary.

But those totals do not include state and national party committees, or outside spending groups that can accept unlimited contributions.

Among the latter, Romney has the upper hand. Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC that spent heavily during the primary season, has already raised $56.5 million, dwarfing the $9 million collected by Priorities USA Action, the leading pro-Obama super PAC.

Politico reported last week that conservative independent-expenditure groups plan to spend a combined $1 billion on presidential and congressional races.

The May success of Romney and the GOP - on the heels of a near tie with Obama and the Democrats in April - is an indication that the former Massachusetts governor might be able to keep pace with the president the rest of the way, even without outside help. Throughout the winter and spring, Romney’s Republican opponents consistently criticized his reliance on cash advantages in primaries, insisting money was a crutch he would not be able to lean on in the general election.

“There is no possibility that any Republican is going to outraise the incumbent president of the United States,’’ Newt Gingrich declared after winning only his home state of Georgia on Super Tuesday. “Therefore, you can’t follow that strategy.’’

Romney, in his second month as the presumptive Republican nominee, appears poised to challenge that notion. His joint committee almost doubled the $40.1 million it raised in April, when it came within $3.5 million of matching Obama’s.

And Romney is off to a vigorous start in June. He has already raised a reported $15 million in Texas during the early days of the month.

Obama also has been busy this month. He attended a trio of high-dollar fund-raisers with President Bill Clinton in New York on Monday and another three in California on Wednesday.

The Romney and Obama campaigns are competing not just to raise the most, but to be able to claim the greater support from grass-roots donors and from big spenders. The president’s campaign reported that 98 percent of May donations were less than $250 and that the average gift was $54.94. The Romney campaign said 93 percent of its contributions were $250 or less.

The statistics from both camps can be misleading because they do not account for contributors who split their donations into installments. The gifts of a donor who has contributed $100 in each of the last 10 months would be included in the Obama campaign’s 98 percent figure and the Romney campaign’s 93 percent, even though the donor is a $1,000 contributor overall.

Overall, Obama’s campaign has been funded by more small-scale donors than Romney’s.

Whatever his contributors’ donation levels, Romney must hope they continue to give at a rate that John McCain’s did not four years ago. For the Arizona senator, May was a good month, just as it was for Romney this year. But McCain never came so close to Obama again. In June 2008, Obama surged to a $50.5 million fund-raising total, while McCain remained stagnant, then Obama outraised McCain by $28.5 million in July and August.

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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