Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign significantly outpaced Democratic President Barack Obama in fundraising last month, a sign that the challenger could at least match the incumbent in the overall race for campaign cash.
Romney and Republican groups raised more than $76.8 million in May, his campaign said on Thursday, topping the more than $60 million Obama and his Democratic allies hauled in as the battle heats up before the Nov. 6 election.
Both campaigns reported their best monthly showing yet in the fundraising battle and the numbers reported included money raised by campaigns plus funds raised by their respective party's national committees.
Obama's advisers are increasingly concerned that his campaign fundraising advantage as a sitting president is being undercut by huge sums being raised by conservative outside groups to buy advertising to attack his record.
The numbers announced on Thursday do not include funds raised by those outside groups, known as "Super PACs."
"We are encouraged by the financial support from a broad range of voters," said Romney national finance chairman Spencer Swick. "It is clear that people aren't willing to buy into 'hope and change' again. Voters are making an investment because they believe that it will benefit the country."
The Romney and Republican fundraising numbers were reported hours after Obama and his Democratic allies announced they had hauled in more than $60 million for his re-election campaign in May - a large jump for the president.
Obama's new totals helped him easily surpass April's donations of $43.6 million, which had marked a decline from the month before as Romney closed the contributions gap.
Romney jumped even further in May, the first full month he campaigned as the presumptive Republican nominee for president. In April, Romney raised almost as much as Obama, taking in $40.1 million for his campaign and the Republican National Committee.
SIGNS OF TROUBLE?
The figures came in after Tuesday's closely watched Republican victory in the recall election for Wisconsin's governor, which raised warning flags that Democratic fundraising and campaign organizing could pose problems for the president in the general election.
Obama's campaign announced the new figures in a series of Twitter messages on Thursday, saying: "Thanks for everyone who chipped in." Campaign staffers later took to the Internet and held a conference call with reporters to downplay Romney's strong showing.
Ben LaBolt, spokesman for the Obama campaign, tweeted that it was common for "newly minted nominees" to get a big bump in donations.
"We knew this day would come," LaBolt said in the conference call with reporters. "The RNC and the Romney campaign just established their joint committee, which means that all the primary donors who had written the maximum contribution during the primary can now go back and make that same contribution for the general election. So we anticipated they would beat us this month."
Romney went through a heated and draining Republican primary season until his main opponents withdrew by April. He had been heavily lagging behind Obama's fundraising until April when he joined forces with the national party.
LaBolt said Romney's numbers should bring out more supporters for Obama.
"That should serve as a clarion call to our supporters and our donors to give now and give again so that not only can we be on the air, but can we build largest grass-roots campaign in history across the country," he said.
MORE MONEY GRABS THIS WEEK
Obama and Romney are both on a swing this week to raise more money. In a two-day trip to Texas, Romney brought in about $15 million. Obama headed to California for a two-day tour - including a Beverly Hills gala and an event in San Francisco - that should bring in a total of about $5 million.
After two days of fundraising both candidates returned to policy issues. Romney, a former private equity executive, blamed Obama for not understanding the critical role the U.S. free-enterprise system had in creating jobs.
"This is not just a failure of policy; it is a moral failure of tragic proportions," Romney said at a campaign event in St. Louis. "Our government has an absolute moral commitment to help every American ... help themselves and that fundamental commitment has been broken."
Republicans have seized on Obama's fundraising trips - which will continue next week with actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Vogue magazine editor Anna Wintour in New York - to criticize the president for traveling to raise money from rich Hollywood supporters while regular Americans are suffering without jobs.
But Democrats said his fundraising schedule is vital to counter a big advantage Republicans are expected to have from money raised by outside groups that can be used for attack ads.
Strategists said the latest numbers showed that it was going to be a constant race for dollars until November.
"Republicans are hungry," said Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons. "They want to win and it's clear they will have enough money to make it a tough fight for the president. The GOP is going to need every dime to convince Americans that what we need now is someone who is an expert at helping the rich get richer."
Republican strategists said Romney's strong numbers showed conservatives were uniting behind him.
"Romney's impressive numbers indicate he will have the financial support to compete against the president both on the air and with get-out-the-vote efforts," said Republican strategist Ron Christie.
Romney's campaign and the Republican National Committee have $107 million in cash on hand, the campaign said. Obama's cash on hand figure was not immediately available.
In releasing a summary - but not all the details - of its May fundraising numbers, the Obama campaign highlighted the large number of people who made small contributions, which contrasts to Romney's big-dollar donors.
More than 572,000 people contributed last month to the Obama campaign and Democratic groups, and more than 147,000 of them were first-time donors, the president's campaign said. Obama's team said 98 percent of the donations last month were for less than $250. The average donation was $54.94, it added.
Romney's campaign said 93 percent of all donations - from more than 297,000 people - in May were $250 or less. The campaign said contributions came from all 50 states.
Obama's May totals included a fundraiser with actor George Clooney, who helped raise nearly $15 million with an event at his Los Angeles home along with a separate raffle offering tickets for small-amount donors.
Romney's May totals also included $75,000 each from Romney and his wife, Ann. It was the first known donation by Romney to his own election bid in this campaign. The amount is the maximum allowed from an outside donor although Romney could give an unlimited amount to his own campaign. (Additional reporting by Steve Holland in St. Louis, Caren Bohan in Los Angeles and Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey, Steve Holland, Matt Spetalnick and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Eric Beech)
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