Obama's campaign said Wednesday it canceled or postponed 10 fundraisers involving the president, Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Bill Daley in the past month because of the debt talks, scrubbing events in California, New York and elsewhere.
Only weeks after the president's campaign reported collecting a combined $86 million with the Democratic National Committee, Obama's team is trying to lower expectations about its fundraising juggernaut while signaling to its army of volunteers and activists that they need to fill the void. Obama is coming off a bruising battle with congressional Republicans over raising the government's debt ceiling and is expected to face a formidable challenge from Republicans in 2012 against the backdrop of a weakened economy.
"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."
Obama holds a large fundraising advantage over his Republican rivals and was raising money later Wednesday in his hometown of Chicago on the eve of his 50th birthday. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney hauled in more than $18 million through the end of June, while all of his GOP primary opponents were in the single-digits.
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. Obama, meanwhile, was taking a jobs-oriented bus tour of the Midwest in mid-August and was not scheduled to hold many donor events during the month. The fundraising quarter was expected to feature smaller gatherings headlined by Obama "surrogates," or high-profile supporters such as governors and lawmakers.
"This is not an easy time to raise money," said former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who led the House Democrats' fundraising arm. Frost said many donors may not feel compelled to give money yet because the campaign is still in its early stages and no clear Republican rival has emerged.
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.
Messina said the campaign had not yet set a revised goal for the current fundraising period ending Sept. 30 but would urge "grass-roots fundraisers" to step up their efforts in the weeks ahead. The campaign has emphasized its large donor base - more than 550,000 people gave money during the spring - and it plans to lean heavily on small donors in August and September.
"We're going to be very aggressive in trying to find ways to engage the grass roots," Messina said. "We always said ... they're the biggest piece of this and they own the campaign and we're about to give them an even tougher assignment."
Obama signed legislation on Tuesday to raise the debt limit and avoid a government default, but the negotiations kept him in the Washington area for the past month. Obama's last fundraiser was in Philadelphia on June 30.
The campaign said the debt talks required Obama to cancel two fundraisers in Southern California and events in Northern California, Seattle, New York and Washington, D.C.
Biden had to skip fundraisers in Atlanta, Nashville, Tenn., and Dallas, while Daley canceled an event in the nation's capital. Obama's fundraiser in New York at the home of film mogul Harvey Weinstein is expected to be rescheduled for this month, while Biden's events are being rescheduled for the fall.
Obama is keeping his schedule on Wednesday, attending fundraisers in Chicago to celebrate his birthday, including a concert with Chicago natives Herbie Hancock and Jennifer Hudson and the Chicago rock band OK Go. Obama turns 50 on Thursday.
Republicans have accused the president of emphasizing campaign money over governing, criticizing plans for the lavish birthday party.
"With 9.2 percent unemployment, he could work on creating jobs, but I suppose the White House is thinking he should stick to the part of his job he really likes," Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said.
As part of Obama's birthday events, Democratic officials and campaign aides are fanning out across the country for fundraisers: former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and deputy campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon will be in Boston, White House adviser David Plouffe will be in Tampa, Fla., New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will headline a New York City event and Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod will be in Los Angeles. Other events with Democratic surrogates will be held in Austin, Texas; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C.
Besides the birthday fundraisers, the campaign is planning hundreds of house parties around the country and has asked supporters to recruit 50 new supporters for the president's birthday.