WASHINGTON/BOSTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign and its Democratic partners raised more than $114 million in August, narrowly beating Republican rival Mitt Romney for the first time in months as the race for the White House approaches its final stretch.
Former Massachusetts governor Romney and fellow Republicans raised more than $111 million, continuing a string of high-dollar hauls that leave him well equipped to contest the November 6 election.
While Obama shattered every fundraising record in 2008 after becoming the first presidential candidate to opt out of a federal matching funds system, Romney has outpaced him significantly on the fundraising front since April.
That has added to a cash advantage on the Republican side that is helped by the success of outside groups, or Super PACs, that have spent lavishly in support of the Republican candidate with unlimited funds from millionaire donors.
In July the Obama campaign raised $75 million to Romney’s $101 million. That discrepancy shifted in August.
The Democratic incumbent broadened his donor base last month with more than 317,000 donors who had never given money before, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in a statement. More than 1.1 million donors in total gave to the Obama cause.
“The key to fighting back against the special interests writing limitless checks to support Mitt Romney is growing our donor base, and we did substantially in the month of August,” Messina said. “That is a critical downpayment on the organization we are building across the country - the largest grassroots campaign in history.”
Obama is counting on that grassroots “ground game” to help make up for the cash advantage enjoyed by Romney, whose campaign along with the Republican National Committee and state Republican parties reported having about $168.5 million in cash at their disposal.
Before the August report, Romney and the joint Victory Fund he shares with the RNC already enjoyed a $60 million cash-on-hand advantage over Obama.
Obama’s campaign takes pride in having a broad base of low-dollar donors, which it hopes will keep giving more in the coming months. In August the average donation it collected was $58, and 98 percent of donations were for $250 or less. It is the first month Obama’s campaign together with the Democratic National Committee and affiliated groups have broken the $100 million threshold this year.
But the president’s campaign has burned through money faster than the Republican candidate, spending $58.5 million in July, with about two-thirds of that going to advertising.
Republicans view the combination of Obama’s high cash burn rate and polls that show a tight race as evidence that they have withstood the advertising onslaught Obama’s campaign launched early in the year.
“This race is a dead heat, even after they have spent over $100 million attacking Mitt Romney with negative ads,” one senior Romney adviser said on Sunday.
Obama’s advisers say they are confident they spent their campaign cash well by seeking to pinpoint Romney’s weaknesses over the summer months, but the discrepancy in available funds is a big concern.
Romney is also now free to spend the millions of dollars he raised during his primary campaign.
Legally, Romney was barred from spending money he raised before he formally accepted the Republican nomination, which he did in Tampa more than a week ago.
The day after Obama accepted his party’s nomination for president at the Democratic convention in North Carolina, the Romney campaign demonstrated it was ready to start spending some of that money in a homestretch assault on Obama.
Republicans seized on a disappointing jobs report on Friday morning, announcing they bought ad time in the key swing states Obama won in 2008 but are now in play.
Romney, on the air in the key states of Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina, was set to expand his advertising to Wisconsin on Monday.
“What we very deliberately did, we held our powder and we knew these jobs numbers were going to be a big moment,” said one Romney adviser. “And we loaded up to come back on Friday, and we’ve gone up in a big way.”
While Romney spent much of the summer fundraising, senior adviser Kevin Madden indicated that the Republican candidate would shift his focus to spending time with voters.
“We’ll continue to do some fundraising throughout this month, but I think we’re in that critical phase where we’re trying to put our emphasis on voter contact and having the governor do more retail campaigning,” Madden said.
Obama’s team believes the president has an advantage at retail campaigning. He just finished a two-day bus trip of Florida, which included chats with voters at local restaurants and bars throughout the state.
Still, it sees Romney as having the financial advantage, and it urged supporters not to become complacent after the successful August figure.
“No celebrating, because they’re going to have an even bigger September,” Obama’s campaign said via Twitter. “But now we know we can match them, doing this our way.” (Editing by John Stonestreet)