Election 2012

Candidates Look to Balance Need for Campaigning With Need for Money

Nicholas Confessore and Ashley Parker|The New York Times
Barak Obama, Mitt Romney
Getty Images Composite

In the closing weeks of a closely fought presidential campaign, Mitt Romney will be mingling with wealthy Republican donors in Chicago, San Diego and San Francisco, hundreds of miles from the swing state voters who will make or break his White House bid.

President Obama will be traveling to New York, where the rapper Jay-Z will host a $40,000-a-head fund-raiser for him next week, and Los Angeles, where he is scheduled to raise a glass with the moneyed in early October, just days before the second presidential debate.

Say goodbye to the traditional fall fund-raising slowdown, when big-dollar bundlers could go back to their day jobs, major donors could put away their wallets and candidates could focus on shaking hands and kissing babies on the campaign trail. For the first time since the inception of public financing, each party’s candidate is declining the money for the general election.

Instead, betting that they can raise and spend far more on their own, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney are committing to ambitious fund-raising schedules that are eating into valuable campaign time, tangling their travel schedules and complicating their efforts to woo voters.

For Mr. Romney, the continued burden of fund-raising — on top of the even more pressing concern of debate preparation — appears to have limited his time on the campaign trail, even as Mr. Obama takes advantage of feel-good photo opportunities, like his bear hug by a Florida pizza parlor owner on Sunday. (Read More:Obama's Hug, Joe Biden's Biker Gang)

The week before the Republican convention, Mr. Romney averaged about one campaign event a day, fewer than typical for a challenger. He appears likely to keep that pace this week after spending much of the Democratic convention focused on debate practice.

Both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama are hoping to have raised more than three-quarters of a billion dollars by Election Day, a target that will require each to raise well over $100 million in September and in October. Officials in both campaigns say they expect to be prospecting through Election Day, putting enormous demands on both the bundlers who gather large checks and the grass-roots donors who the officials believe will perk up as the campaign intensifies.

Mr. Obama, who led Mr. Romney in early fund-raising but was forced to spend tens of millions of dollars on advertising this summer to counter an onslaught of attacks from conservative “super PACs,” is now redoubling his efforts to raise money, scheduling an extra round of high-dollar events in states like New York and California that have sent his biggest bundlers scrambling. (Read More:15 Events That Could Determine the Election Outcome)

For Mr. Romney, that means deploying allies like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and his own five sons to fund-raisers that Mr. Romney himself might have attended in the past, exploiting their star power to clear his time for debate preparations and speaking with voters.

Both candidates are also adapting their fund-raising schedules to accommodate the geographical demands of the campaign trail. Aides to Mr. Obama, who in the past rarely boarded Air Force One for fund-raisers that brought in less than $2 million, are planning events near cities like Minneapolis and Denver, where there are fewer dollars to be harvested but plenty of swing voters.

Likewise, Mr. Romney will tap into networks of Republican entrepreneurs and small-business owners in places like Cincinnati, Cleveland and Madison, Wis., where he can schedule political stops near finance events. (Mr. Obama’s “you didn’t build that” comment has helped, Romney officials said.)

“There’s more overlap than there has been in the past between political states and places where we will go to raise money,” said Spencer Zwick, Mr. Romney’s finance chairman. “Pretty much everywhere Mitt or Paul Ryan goes, even in some of these smaller markets, we are going to be able to raise money. It’s not just New York and Florida and California.”

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Speaking to reporters on Monday, Kevin Madden, a spokesman for Mr. Romney, said that Mr. Romney’s time on the trail would be sufficient despite the demands of fund-raising.

“I think this is pretty clear that we’ve been very busy over the last few days making the case to voters here in Ohio, voters in Virginia,” Mr. Madden said. “I think we’re going to continue to keep up a pretty good pace.”

The Romney campaign moved quickly on Tuesday to squash any talk of a light campaign schedule. An aide disclosed a “newly added” stop — at the campaign office in Jacksonville, Fla., on Wednesday — and the campaign signaled that Mr. Romney, who had been expected to be off the campaign trail this weekend, might in fact have a series of public events.

Mr. Romney’s team blames the president for opening the door to endless fund-raising, noting that four years ago, Mr. Obama became the first major party nominee to decline public money — and the spending limits that goes with it — since the creation of the public campaign financing system in the 1970s.

Mr. Obama’s team blames the rise of super PACs and other outside groups, which have made it easier for wealthy individuals to inject huge amounts of money into the campaign, forcing Mr. Obama to spend more on fund-raising.

Striking a balance between fund-raising and campaigning can be tricky. Of the big fund-raising states, only Florida offers a high concentration of both big donors and swing voters. To pair fund-raising and campaign stops in swing states, the campaigns are cramming more donors into larger events, making it hard to demand supersize checks, or throwing more events with lower ticket prices, which may bring in less cash.

For much of the campaign, Mr. Obama’s highest priced events were intimate, two-hour dinners for a few dozen wealthy guests, including a question-and-answer session. There will be fewer of those now, advisers said, and more brief receptions and photo lines, a donor perk that the president does not particularly enjoy dispensing. (Read More:Obama Outraises Romney for First Time in 4 Months)

Both campaigns will also be counting on small donors, who can provide the campaigns a steady stream of small checks without hitting federal donation limits and who often respond to high-profile public events, like debates and local campaign appearances.

Michael Barbaro contributed reporting.