Image: Campaign staff work in President Barack Obama's new campaign headquarters in Chicago
JOHN GRESS  /  Reuters
Campaign staff work in President Barack Obama's new campaign headquarters in Chicago, May 12, 2011.
updated 8/3/2011 4:31:49 PM ET 2011-08-03T20:31:49

Trying to make up lost time, President Barack Obama plunged back into the search for money for his re-election campaign Wednesday with a coast-to-coast series of parties marking his 50th birthday after he was forced to cancel fundraisers because of the debt-ceiling crisis.

Lowering expectations, Obama's campaign said it would raise tens of millions of dollars less this summer than it did last spring because it had to scrap 10 fundraisers headlined by Obama and others in California, New York and elsewhere and now faces a sluggish time of the year to raise campaign cash.

Obama completed a bruising tussle with congressional Republicans over raising the government's debt ceiling and has had little time this summer to prepare for a Republican challenger in 2012. His campaign juggernaut is expected to at least match the $750 million he raised in 2008 but has tried to tamp down those lofty expectations only weeks after reporting a combined $86 million between the campaign and the Democratic National Committee in the spring.

First Read: Back to (non-debt) business
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"We're going to raise significantly less in the third quarter than we did in the second quarter," said Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager. "We will not be able to replace all of these events just because of his busy schedule. We always knew that he had his job and we had to do this around his schedule, and the truth is we just have to deal with canceling a month's worth of events."

On the eve of his actual birthday, Obama was heading home to Chicago for fundraisers, including one where local favorites Herbie Hancock, Jennifer Hudson and the band OK Go were to entertain donors who paid $50 to $35,800, the legal maximum. Later, Obama was to speak to about 100 high-dollar donors at a private dinner.

The president still holds a large fundraising advantage over his GOP rivals and has been quietly building his campaign organization while Republicans try to establish themselves with voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early voting states. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney collected more than $18 million through the end of June, while Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, another top contender in the GOP race, brought in $4 million.

As part of Obama's birthday events, Democratic officials and campaign aides were fanning out across the country to raise money for Obama. The events included New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York City, Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod in Los Angeles, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Washington, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and deputy campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon in Boston, and White House adviser David Plouffe in Tampa, Fla. Other events with Democratic surrogates were being held in Austin, Texas and Oakland, Calif.

Video: Obama's Campaign War Chest (on this page)

The campaign also was holding hundreds of house parties around the country to help organize volunteers and urging activists to recruit 50 new supporters to mark Obama's milestone birthday.

Democrats said the slow fundraising pace during the summer was expected because many donors are on vacation and high-dollar events don't typically resume until after Labor Day. Many donors, meanwhile, may not feel compelled to give money yet because the campaign is still in its formative stage and no clear Republican rival has emerged.

"This is not an easy time to raise money," said former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who led the House Democrats' fundraising arm. "His personal presence at events is important and he was tied up, certainly during the month of July, with the debt ceiling issue."

First Read: No victory lap for President Obama

Republicans have called Obama the "campaigner-in-chief," and ripped his birthday fundraisers at a time of high unemployment and recent promises by Obama to reinvigorate a debate in Congress over how to boost the economy.

"He's tried all week now to play this spin that now the White House is pivoting to jobs, which they're tried many times before, and the first job the Obama is interested in saving is his own," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.

Obama last traveled outside the Washington region on June 30 for a fundraiser in Philadelphia. He is planning a jobs-oriented bus tour of the Midwest from Aug. 15-17 and expected to take a vacation later in the month. As a result, the campaign was expected to hold smaller gatherings headlined by Obama "surrogates," or high-profile supporters such as governors and lawmakers, during the summer.

Video: Obama shifts into campaign mode (on this page)

Obama has experienced a summer lag in fundraising before. During his first presidential campaign, Obama raised about $21 million in the summer of 2007, compared with about $33 million in the spring of that year.

But now in the White House, Obama canceled two fundraisers in Southern California and events in Northern California, Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C., campaign officials said. Vice President Joe Biden skipped fundraisers in Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., and Dallas, while White House chief of staff Bill Daley canceled an event in the nation's capital.

Only a few will be rescheduled. Obama's fundraiser in New York at the home of film mogul Harvey Weinstein is expected to be held later this month, while Biden's events are being rescheduled for the fall.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Obama shifts into campaign mode

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama shifts into campaign mode

    >>> now that the house and the senate are going home , the president is heading back to chicago to raise money for his re- election campaign and to start celebrating his 50th birthday, which occurs tomorrow. chuck today is nbc news chief white house correspondent and host of "the daily rundown." charlie cook is an msnbc political analyst. this just in they say the president is taking the budget team out for burgers on the hill.

    >> taking him for beers.

    >> more than burgers.

    >> we don't know exactly what they're ordering yet. the prez obama burger is marmalade, roquefort cheese . the michelle melt is carmelized onions, ruby tomato on a frosted wheat baked bun.

    >> i don't think michelle would allow the mayo on the president obama burger.

    >> they need a break, but everyone needs a break. but chuck, how does the president pivot? i interviewed nancy pelosi we're going to be playing that next. the fact is they're trying to talk about jobs. the result of this debt deal is they've got in money to play with.

    >> i feel like this is a broken record. we've had this discussion before. now they're going to pivot to jobs.

    >> what can they do?

    >> there isn't much they can do. there were some things that they thought they were going to get done in july. but the debt ceiling overshadowed them and they couldn't get them through. the free trade agreement . they're little things . but the three trade agreements --

    >> i asked nancy pelosi about that and she said they were against -- the white house was pushing the will. but --

    >> republicans -- this was one of those bipartisan deals they were going to get. they had the votes. there were some is that they heeded to dot because there were some democrats not happy. but the point is that's what july was supposed to be. was the white house getting these done, getting those over the finish line and instead now that's put off to september.

    >> and the faa bill. where you've got thousands of jobs who -- people being laid off, airport's not well served. at a news conference today senate democrats played a little bit of chuck schumer later, blamed the media for misreporting supposedly how all this has evolved. basically there was a short-term bill that the white house wanted a republican bill. and the senate democrats said, no, we want a clean bill.

    >> it looks like a fukushima daiichi between senator rockefeller and the house chairman dan mika. it's -- it's gotten to be -- it's so messy and it's costing $1.4 billion.

    >> billion with a b.

    >> in tax revenue coming in. you know, it just furthers the narrative of the town looking dysfunctional.

    >> in terms of dysfunction, we saw the evolution of the tea party coming out of the august recess two years ago. chuck, what's going to happen when members go home?

    >> you know, i'll be curious to see. remember the tea party got fired up in 2009 because there was some astroturf. there was an organized effort, groups out there trying to create trouble at town hall meetings . it was definitely an orchestrated campaign. you don't sense that there's any orchestrated campaigns. i'll be curious to see especially because who shows up at a town hall meeting for members of congress ? it's people that have the idealogical in concrete positions on the left or the right. and they're the ones most upset about this deal.

    >> my prediction is you're not going to see many town meetings .

    >> i think both sides between democrats after summer of 2009 - 2010 and republicans after medicare it's going to be very controlled. the new thing is what telephone town meetings where you can screen the calls and things like that. those folks aren't going out to expose themselves to the wrath of voters.

    >> one other thing, this district work period so-called district work period, the bottom line is that the house has already taken 63 days, the senate 30 days . this is a lot longer than most people get for vacations. i asked pelosi about that, she said it's not my schedule. she's not the speaker.

    >> i think there's a real disconnect. i think a lot of members think that their constituents are upset with them. i think they underestimate by a factor of five the anger that's out there it's going after both parties. just talking to some members a week ago, i was stunned how --

    >> it's out there. they are ticked off. thank you very much. the best in the


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