Record fundraising haul comes as Obama campaign promises more combative president for Tuesday’s debate in Long Island
Ewen MacAskill in Washington
- guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 October 2012 22.09 BST
Mitt Romney received a major boost on the eve of the second presidential debate when his team announced he had raised $170m in campaign donations in September, putting the 2012 election well on course to be the costliest ever.
Romney’s haul is $11m less than Obama took in over the same period. But the strong fundraising effort by Romney and the Republican party is notable because it came before the first debate in Denver a fortnight ago, at a time when Romney’s campaign was thought to have stalled.
Given that Romney took in $12m in the immediate aftermath of the Denver debate and that more people will become engaged as the election draws closer, the Romney campaign is looking to surpass the $170m figure this month.
A fundraising meeting for wealthy donors is being held this week at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York following a similar successful event held at Park City, Utah, earlier this year.
Romney’s campaign team said it and the Republicans have $191m on hand to spend on the remainder of the campaign.
Past election strategies by Romney has seen him favour late ad blitzes in contrast to the Obama campaign, which has been spending heavily on ads since the summer.
With the amount of money available to both campaigns, Obama and Romney are at risk of reaching saturation point, running out of ad slots in the swing states to spend money on.
The $170m, a record for Romney, was raised jointly by his team and the Republican party and easily outstrips the $111m Romney raised in August.
The Romney campaign, keen to counter perceptions that it is funded by a clique of wealthy backers, said 93% of the money came from small donations, with more than 1 million giving $250 or less.
The Obama campaign said 98% of its cash is from donors paying $250 or less.
The fundraising boost for Romney came as Obama’s campaign team Monday promised that a better-prepared and more combative presidentwill turn up for Tuesday’s debate. Polls showed the two tied in a dead heat in the race for the White House.
“He’s energised, and I expect he will make a passionate case,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters said. Psaki acknowledged that the polls had tightened and the race is now “very, very close”.
With three weeks left to election day, the onus is on Obama to mount a strong comeback in Tuesday’s Long Island debate to undo some of the damage caused by his dismal showing in Denver. Another poor performance is likely to seriously jeopardise his re-election chances.
Psaki told reporters the president would be “firm but respectful” in his approach to Romney, suggesting he will not adopt the same strategy as Jode Biden, who was accused of being rude, patronising and disrespectful in his confrontation with his opponent, Paul Ryan, in Kentucky last week.
The president has reviewed a video of the Denver debate, studied Romney’s policies intensively and is practising hard with the Romney stand-in, former Democratic presidential candidate and senator John Kerry.
Hinting at the strategy he will pursue, Psaki accused Romney of “trying to hide from his severely conservative record.”
Obama was heavily criticised by fellow Democrats of failing in Denver to exploit Romney’s perceived weaknesses such as the secret video in which he dismissed 47% of Americans as freeloaders, his approach on women’s rights, his record as chief executive of Bain Capital and his unwillingness to provide details of his plans for tax and deficit-reduction.
Before the Denver debate, the race had seemed to almost all but over. Since then, Republican activists and enthusiasts have been energised and polls have tightened. If the polls remain unchanged, it is going to an unpredictable finish on November 6.
A Washington Post/ABC poll published Monday had Obama on 49% to Romney’s 46% among likely voters, statistically a dead heat. The detail showed a big increase in post-debate enthusiasm for Romney, up from 26% five months ago to 59% in the new poll, 11 points of this coming since the Denver debate.
According to ABC polling analysts, enthusiasm for Romney is substantially higher than it was for Obama’s Republican opponent in 2008, up 30 points.
There was some consolation for Obama, enjoying a 13-point increase, up to 42%, since the summer in the number who believe the country is headed in the right direction. His job approval rating is 50%, poor but good enough to win an election on past historical precedent.
Political commentators have drawn comparisons with 1984, when Ronald Reagan, after a poor first debate against Walter Mondale, rebounded with a strong second one.
The format for the Long Island debate is different from the Denver one. It is billed as town-hall style, with questions taken from the audience rather than put by a moderator. Genuine town hall debates with politicians in front of the public can be exciting, rowdy and unpredictable, but this one will be more organised, with the 80 potential questioners chosen by Gallup.
Still, the format requires a skilful approach by the debaters, careful not to be seen as condescending towards real voters, as opposed to journalists.
Representatives from the two campaigns combined to express concern over the moderator, CNN journalist, Candy Crowley, a feisty anchorwoman who has said she views her role as asking follow-up questions as required. Debate negotiators from the Obama and Romney camps said that is not how they viewed her role and the agreement had been that questions from her would be limited.
Psaki, briefing reporters on Monday, sought to end the minor row by saying Obama will happily take questions from either the audience or the moderator.