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Politics

Obama Campaign Tries To Up Fundraising Game

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

President Obama played a high-stakes game of basketball last night. We do not know if anybody was keeping score, but you can feel certain that someone was counting the money raised. The president was collecting cash for his re-election campaign, an effort in which he has lately been outscored by Republican Mitt Romney and his supporters.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama has never been much of a TV watcher, except for sports. But as he told supporters in Las Vegas yesterday, he's especially wary of television between now and the November election.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will see the other side spend more money than we've ever seen on ads.

HORSLEY: A lot of that money is coming from Las Vegas' own Sheldon Adelson. The casino magnate and his family spent more than $20 million during the Republican primary, trying to help Newt Gingrich knock off Mitt Romney. Now Adelson is spending at least $10 million more, trying to help Romney unseat Mr. Obama.

The president grumbled about that kind of spending at campaign rallies throughout Nevada.

OBAMA: They're betting that each $10 million check from some wealthy donor drowns out millions of voices. They don't see that as a problem. That's their strategy. I'm - I'm counting on something different. I'm counting on you.

(APPLAUSE)

HORSLEY: But Mr. Obama quickly left the bright lights of Las Vegas behind for the even brighter lights of New York City.

(SOUNDBITE OF HELICOPTER)

HORSLEY: He flew by helicopter into Lower Manhattan for his own big-dollar fundraiser. It was part of a day-long series of events, all with a basketball theme. Campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki says they're expected to bring in about $3 million.

JEN PSAKI: There's a dinner that's $20,000 per person. We've sold about 120 tickets. There are two earlier events, including an autograph signing event, tickets are 250 per person, and a skills camp - a shoot-around. The president does love basketball.

HORSLEY: The co-host of last night's dinner was former Chicago Bulls' legend Michael Jordan. After dinner, Mr. Obama joined past and present NBA stars, including Carmelo Anthony and Patrick Ewing, for what was described as a casual shoot at New York's Lincoln Center. It's hard to say just how casual the game with the president was, since no reporters, microphones or press cameras were allowed in.

PSAKI: This is a time for him to, you know, let loose and play with some supporters who are participating in the evening and some NBA players.

HORSLEY: Basketball players who contribute to politicians overwhelmingly support Mr. Obama in the presidential race. Team owners, on the other hand, have given more money to Romney.

Overall, Mr. Obama has out-raised Romney, if you look only at the candidate's own campaign committees. And the Obama campaign has spent more on TV ads as well. But Romney takes the lead when you count national political committees and sympathetic superPACs. Those have looser fundraising rules, and are allowed to collect money in much bigger chunks.

OBAMA: Governor Romney obviously has got more friends than I do that can write $10 million checks.

HORSLEY: In public, Mr. Obama wears a brave face about the Republicans' fundraising advantage, telling voters in Iowa, for example, no amount of money can stop their political will.

OBAMA: We've been outspent before. We've been counted out before.

HORSLEY: But privately the president and his aides admit they're worried about the sheer volume of negative ads coming their way this year. Spokeswoman Psaki notes the Obama campaign still relies heavily on small Internet contributions. But Psaki makes no apology for Mr. Obama's efforts to bring in larger checks. The president has hosted more than 200 fundraisers so far this election season.

PSAKI: This campaign is still funded by grassroots supporters, people who are giving $3, $5, $10. We also know fundraising is a part of political campaigning. And you know, we're not going to compete in this election with one arm tied behind our back.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama remains a fierce competitor, on and off the basketball court. And there's nothing casual about the political game he's playing against Mitt Romney.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.