President Obama met in a closed hotel ballroom Wednesday evening with the core of his 2012 fundraising team, a group of nearly 500 supporters that by some estimates will be called on to help Obama raise upwards of $1 billion towards his reelection.
The gathering, arranged by the Democratic National Committee, was the latest move in the quiet start-up of the president's 2012 fundraising apparatus. The effort has been slowly getting underway in small, closed-door meetings between Obama's political advisors and his top fundraisers for the past several weeks.
"I think the president knows what's ahead of him," said Mitchell Berger, a veteran Florida fundraiser and advisor to Democratic campaigns dating back to the Carter years, who attended Wednesday event. "When I got started in 1976, we were trying to raise $100 million. You can imagine what that is adjusted for inflation."
As the incumbent president, and someone with a proven record of raising $750 million in his last election, experts agree Obama is well-positioned for what's ahead. But they also tell ABC News there will be new obstacles to his fundraising effort that precipitated this early start.
Some of the faces in the crowd that lined up to pass through security screening in the lobby of the Marriott Wardman Park hotel Wednesday were mainstays of Obama's 2008 bid -- corporate executives, union leaders, and top lawyers capable of tapping their vast networks of friends to raise, in some cases, close to $1 million each. They included past supporters such as Ned Lamont, the former Senate candidate from Connecticut, Florida businessman Mark Gilbert, and venture capitalist Steve Westly.
In 2007 and 2008, Obama assembled an army of so-called "bundlers" -- named for their ability to bundle large numbers of checks in relatively small increments, keeping each individual donor under the legal giving limit, which now stands at $2,500. But political experts agree that the president will confront significant new challenges as he begins to restart that machinery.
For starters, Obama put some of his most proven fundraisers out of commission by turning them into top advisors and overseas ambassadors, making it illegal for them to engage in campaign activity. Among them are a big slice of his top-tier bundlers -- those who raised more than $500,000. They include more than 50 ambassadors, from California bundler Jeff Bleich in Australia to Boston fundraiser Alan Solomont in Spain to Chicago moneyman Louis B. Susman in the United Kingdom -- prized hand-outs to those who brought in large sums at critical points in his campaign.
He will also lose the fundraising clout of senior administration officials such as Julius Genachowski, who now chairs the Federal Communications Commission, and Bill Kennard, whom Obama appointed as U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
A key strategy for replacing those lost to administration posts has been the active recruitment of Democrats who backed Hillary Clinton last cycle. "They're going after the Clinton people," one veteran Obama fundraiser told ABC News. The targets are bundlers such as Florida's Ben Pollara, who says on his website he raised over $12 million for Clinton as her Florida finance director.