GWEN IFILL: Now to 2012 politics.
President Obama's busy fund-raising schedule appears to be paying off. The Obama campaign announced today that, combined with the Democratic National Committee, it raised $86 million over the last three months. That record-breaking total leaves his Republican competitors in the dust. As we reported last week, the entire GOP field combined raised a total of $35 million to $40 million.
Here now to help us go inside the numbers is NewsHour Political Editor David Chalian.
David, welcome back.
How does the president's fund-raising measure up?
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, you have got to call a win a win, right? I mean, it is a record-breaking number, as you said, that $86 million. But notice how the campaign is putting it out there in this top line. They want to show that combined DNC and Obama campaign number, because those are the kind of events, combined events, that the president has been doing, where they invite a donor to donate both the maximum amount, $5,000, to the campaign and the maximum amount, north of $30,000, to the DNC. And that's why they like that big total.
But, listen, this is the power of incumbency. You would anticipate that the incumbent president is going to be able to fill ballrooms and raise more money than these challengers.
GWEN IFILL: So let's compare this apples to apples. The last incumbent president who was trying to raise money for a reelection campaign, George W. Bush, 2003, how did he do compared to this?
DAVID CHALIAN: So, this is the -- that's the record that they were trying to break.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
DAVID CHALIAN: If you looked at -- if you look at what Bush/Cheney re-election campaign, combined with the RNC, did at this time in 2003, that was around $60 million. That's why the Obama campaign set a public goal of a combined $60 million.
Of course, you only set goals to...
GWEN IFILL: Exceed them.
DAVID CHALIAN: ... exceed them in this game. So, everybody expected them to come in north of that.
However, I will say, to compare apples to apples again, as you say, George W. Bush, as the incumbent president, in the third quarter of 2003, just for his campaign, not combined with the RNC, raised $50 million. As you just said, President Obama, just for his campaign, raised $47 million.
So, he has not broken the sort of single-quarter fund-raising for an incumbent president for their campaign.
GWEN IFILL: You sat here last week, David, and you talked about how the Republican totals had not quite lived up to expectations, at least their own expectations, as far as we know, because there are still some out there.
Does this -- does this prove that the economy was really lagging, which is what some Republican hopefuls have been saying, when the president can raise this money -- much money from this many people?
DAVID CHALIAN: You know, the president's campaign manager, Jim Messina, was asked exactly that, about what kind of effect is the sort of downturn in the economy having on this fund-raising.
GWEN IFILL: Right.
DAVID CHALIAN: And he said, no, it didn't have too much of an effect.
But, of course, the entire focus of the campaign rolling out this number is to try to show some enthusiasm at the grassroots level. They don't -- they want to have it both ways, Gwen. They want to post a big, record-breaking fund-raising number, but they don't want to sort of own up to the fact that a lot of that are high-dollar donors, people bundling a lot of money together.
GWEN IFILL: And we don't know yet how many of those there are.
DAVID CHALIAN: Exactly. We don't get that exact breakdown until that 15,000-page report gets filed on Friday.
GWEN IFILL: But what they do want us to know is about how many small donors they have. So, break that down.
DAVID CHALIAN: Right.
So, take a look at some of these metrics that they put out there today about their fund-raising -- 552,000 individual donors gave over the last three months -- 260,000 of those are new donors, didn't donate to the campaign last time around. The campaign is very excited that there are hundreds of thousands of new people coming into the process -- 98 percent of their contributions $250 or less, and that the average contribution was $69.
But, Gwen, when you look at that 98 percent of contributions $250 or less, we don't know what percentage of the raw dollars came from those kind of small donations.
GWEN IFILL: Yes.
DAVID CHALIAN: They're being very careful about their...
GWEN IFILL: That 2 percent can be a lot.
DAVID CHALIAN: Exactly. Those could be really high rollers. And there's no doubt that this first fund-raising quarter, this is where you get that low-hanging fruit. And so there's no doubt that the big-money folks will sort of dominate this.
GWEN IFILL: One of the things the Democrats made the point of today was saying, even though we have raised all this money -- and this is a way to get people to keep writing checks -- we're nothing compared to the outside groups the Republicans are going to bring in to raise lots of money on their behalf.
Accept that for a moment. Aren't the Democrats doing the same thing this time?
DAVID CHALIAN: There's no doubt about it. They have said that they're expecting $500 million worth of attack ads from outside Republican-allied groups, and that they demand disclosure about where those donors are coming, these shady outside groups.
But, of course, they completely ignore the fact that Barack Obama's own deputy White House press secretary, Bill Burton, has left the White House and set up such an outside group to help his re-election campaign and fight back against these Republican attacks from the outside.
GWEN IFILL: And aside from unions, who have been raising mostly for Democratic candidates.
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, right. You can raise from corporations, unions unlimited now after Citizens United. So...
GWEN IFILL: Right.
And these other outside groups, I'm just very curious about whether they are now splitting their support among all these Republicans who are running now -- there are so many in the race -- whereas all the outside Democratic groups are going to one guy.
DAVID CHALIAN: Oh, that's a great question, because that's also part of his advantage, right? He doesn't have a primary, the president.
And so all this money that he has raised and put out there today, this is all to build an infrastructure and organization and prepare to defend against attacks in this next year, before he's in a one-on-one race with somebody.
On the Republican side, right now, those outside groups are spending their money attacking the president, right? They are trying -- they will get behind the Republican nominee, which is why, no matter how much a big fund-raising win this quarter is for the president, the Republican nominee, nor President Obama, is not going to win or lose this election based on how much money they won.
GWEN IFILL: David Chalian, as always, thank you.
DAVID CHALIAN: Sure.