WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has improved on his stunning support in the race for campaign cash, raising his total number of donors to nearly 250,000 people in the first six months of the year.
The freshman Illinois senator impressed rivals in the first quarter when he reported 104,000 donors, but he surpassed the mark in the second quarter with 138,000 more opening their wallets, the campaign announced Thursday.
The campaign won't say yet how much the donors have given, but the large number suggests their fund raising will be competitive with the $25.7 million he raised in the first quarter. A campaign official speaking on the condition of anonymity tried to tamp down expectations by disclosing that the average donation in the second quarter is likely to be less than the roughly $247 in the first quarter.
The campaign said it's goal is to attract 250,000 donors by midnight on Saturday, the next money reporting deadline, and was running a live tally on his Web site to help bring in more. It was about 4,000 short as of midday Thursday.
The campaign said it collected more than 339,000 contributions — meaning that many individuals made repeat donations — and its goal will be to reach 350,000 by the deadline.
"This campaign has become a vehicle for hundreds of thousands of Americans who believe that the people can take control of the political process again," campaign manager David Plouffe wrote in an e-mail to supporters that includes video links from donors.
Obama's campaign announced the final push for cash on the same day as a Democratic presidential debate, an announcement that could rattle his rivals.
Aides to his top competitor, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, say she will match or slightly exceed her $26 million from the first quarter. In an e-mail, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said that while her amount would be record-setting for the quarter, "we do expect Senator Obama to significantly outraise us this quarter."
That another candidate could even approach Clinton's fundraising prowess was unthinkable six months ago. But the freshman senator from Illinois has drawn supporters who have been inspired by his long-standing opposition to Iraq, his message of hope and his chance to be the first black president.
Like Clinton, Obama has attracted the Wall Street executives, Hollywood moguls and other rich donors who traditionally have fueled political campaigns. But Obama has also concentrated on smaller donors who can give just $25 or $50 each, a practice that other campaigns said they also have adopted in the second quarter.
Obama still trails Clinton in national and most state polls, but the money will give him the ability to fund an aggressive challenge to her front-runner status. He began his television ad campaign this week, with a spot in Iowa highlighting his biography.
The Obama campaign said it believes the number of donors is a record for six months of fundraising. Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean built a reputation for unprecedented grass-roots support when 70,000 people contributed about $10.5 million in the first two quarters of 2003.
Like Dean, much of Obama's money comes in small-dollar donations made over the Internet.
Campaigns typically play down their fundraising goals knowing that they will likely exceed them in the end.
As the last quarter's end approached in March, Obama's camp said it would be happy raising $12 million but didn't dispute estimates of $20 million. It beat that amount by more than $5 million. Democrat John Edwards' campaign said they hoped to exceed his first quarter 2003 total of $7.4. They nearly doubled it. And Clinton aides, who had initially set a goal of $15 million for the quarter, adjusted the figure to about $25 million in the final days. The campaign raised $26 million.
So far this quarter, Obama aides say $20 million would thrill them, the Edwards' camp says its shooting for $9 million.