WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has lost millions of dollars in support from former donors in Democratic strongholds and in districts that he won narrowly four years ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of the most recent federal campaign finance data.
Tens of thousands of supporters who gave him hundreds of dollars or more in the early stages of the 2008 campaign haven't offered him similar amounts of cash so far in this campaign. And in some cases, former Obama contributors gave to GOP candidates, such as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Obama's re-election effort is hardly hurting for cash: His campaign and the Democratic Party raised more than $70 million for Obama's re-election in the July-September period, outstripping all Republicans combined by tens of millions of dollars.
But the AP's analysis indicates that Obama, beleaguered by a struggling economy, has lost early support from some of his larger financial supporters and will have to work harder to win back party stalwarts and swing voters alike. Obama's approval ratings have slumped to 41 percent in a recent Gallup poll, as steadfast supporters have found themselves less able or less willing to open their wallets again.
"He was our state senator, and when I looked at the Republican side, I thought, 'We need some fresh blood in the campaign,'" said Janet Tavakoli, 58, a financial analyst from Chicago who gave $1,000 to the president in 2008. "But I was dead wrong about it," she said, and isn't supporting any candidate this time.
Obama faced then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2008. This time he is running unchallenged and has no primaries or caucuses looming, as the Republican candidates do, so potential Obama donors may not be feeling any sense of urgency. But typically early donors tend to give again, as money is a sign of enthusiasm — something Obama had in spades four years ago.
For its analysis, the AP compared the names and addresses of Obama contributors who gave between $200 and $2,500 from April to September 2007 with those who gave amounts in the same range during the same period this year. The AP adjusted its analysis to compensate for contributors who might have moved and listed a new address, or whose name or address was listed slightly differently last time.
The Obama campaign said most of its contributors gave small donations this year; it is not required under federal law to provide names of donors who gave less than $200. About 40 percent of total fundraising came from amounts greater than $200 this year, not adjusting for inflation, compared with more than 75 percent during the same period in 2007.
Obama's missing contributors live across the country, mostly concentrated in the Northeast and the West Coast. Obama also missed support from early donors in parts of Texas, Illinois and Michigan — areas he narrowly won in 2008. But he also picked up some new sources of cash in those places.
"I have little discretionary money, and I just have to take care of myself," said Roger Hodges, 45, an urban designer in Richmond, Calif. Hodges gave Obama $250 four years ago but doesn't plan on donating in this election. Hodges said friends in the liberal-leaning San Francisco Bay Area have become disappointed in Obama.
Romney, a leading GOP contender, has closed in financially in areas of the country that gave a solid stream of checks to Obama in the 2008 campaign, including Southern California, Florida and New England. Records show a handful of Obama contributors from 2008 donated to Romney this time; few, if any, appeared to give to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another front-runner.
Lynda Marren, 48, of Hillsdale, Calif., usually supports Republican politicians, but she paid $500 to hear Obama speak four years ago.
"I wasn't persuaded then, and still am not," she said, and gave $1,000 to Romney this past June.
Many Obama supporters said they will vote for his re-election even if they don't write big checks. About 4 out of 5 of those who voted for the president in 2008 say they are likely to do so again, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
But Obama's contributions this recent fundraising quarter — absent support from the Democratic National Committee — are less than the combined cash given to all GOP candidates, hinting at an influx of money to whomever Republicans chose as their nominee. Observers have said this election likely will cost more than $1 billion.
The Obama campaign, for its part, said more than a million people have given to the president's 2012 re-election efforts, a mix of hundreds of thousands of new and returning donors that spokesman Ben LaBolt said points to "evidence of a growing organization." All told, Obama received donations from a wide swath of the United States from the Plains, the Midwest and parts of the South since April, the AP's analysis found.
Among those donors was Laurel Cappa of Washington, who gave $300 to the president four years ago and opened her wallet again this year.
"It was a birthday gift to myself," she said, having turned 70 this year, "and I expect to be giving more."
The campaign reports offer a complicated financial picture for Obama this election cycle. Recent reports show a mixed level of financial support from Wall Street, and an AP analysis earlier this month found Obama garnered continued donations from the nation's most economically hard-hit areas.
The campaign figures, however, didn't capture money raised by new, outside groups known as super political action committees, which can collect unlimited amounts of cash to influence elections. Obama and leading GOP candidates all have super PACs working in their favor, not counting groups like the GOP-leaning American Crossroads that have raised hundreds of millions ahead of the general election.