Obama Fundraisers Highly Coveted Despite Lower Approval Rating

Bush raised millions for Republicans despite dismal approval ratings.

August 24, 2010, 6:45 PM

Aug. 26, 2010— -- President Obama's approval rating may be on the decline, but that hasn't diminished his star power as fundraiser-in-chief. In fact, demand for the president has grown in what will be a contentious mid-term election, with Republicans planning to sweep Congress.

Since January, the president has raked in more than $20 million for Democratic candidates and committees, and he continues to draw supporters who pay thousands of dollars to hear and see the president, and take a picture with him -- for an additional cost, of course. How much exactly the president has raised is still unknown, since the administration is not required to report it yet.

From Florida to Washington, the president has held fundraisers across the country for candidates big and small. Last week, Obama raised $1 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in a glitzy, star-studded fundraiser in Los Angeles. Just days later, he raised another $700,000 for the Florida Democratic party.

Despite the cross-country jaunts, Obama's fundraising prowess hasn't yet matched that of his predecessor. More fundraising events leading up to the election will rake in millions more for Democratic candidates, and it remains to be seen whether Obama can reach the same threshold as President George W. Bush.

Even though his popularity declined in the later years of his administration, Bush still managed to pull in a hefty sum for Republican candidates while he was president. He helped raise $146 million for candidates for the 2008 election, even though his approval rating hovered below 30 percent for much of the final years of his presidency.

In the 2005-2006 election cycle, Bush raised $166 million, and his fundraising spree reached a peak in 2002, when he raised about $200 million for the mid-term elections.

No matter how unpopular the president may be, at the end of day people still want to take a picture with him, experts say.

"A president of either party is still going to be the single best fundraiser that is out there. There's always more interest in seeing or being seen with the president. They obviously command a much larger audience than any other surrogate a political party could hope for," said Democratic strategist Bill Buck, who has served on various presidential campaigns.

Faced by voters skeptical of the Obama administration's policies, some Democratic candidates are distancing themselves from the establishment and the White House. But when it comes to fundraisers, an endorsement and appearance by the president is the gold standard, no matter how much the candidate is at odds with him.

"If you have the opportunity to have the president do a fundraiser for you and don't take advantage of it, I would say you're mathematically disqualified from holding office," said Bill Carrick, a Democratic strategist and media consultant.

Carrick cited the example of President Bill Clinton in 1994, who despite low approval ratings, was still widely solicited for fundraising events.

Obama's disapproval rating was 52 percent in a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Only 45 percent of those polled approved of the president's performance.

But when it comes to fundraising, it's not the general masses that come out to support candidates. The key is to rally the base, which still remains strongly in favor of Obama.

"If you look within Obama's numbers there's still a lot of strength with solid Democrats," Buck said. "There is no one who is going to be able to raise more money in a single day than the president of the United States. I don't care which party it is and which candidate it is and the second thing he'll be able to do in numbers is really rally base Democrats."

Popularity within the party is one of the reasons Bush was able to raise such a hefty amount for candidates during his time in office.

"He had a really strong devoted following in the Republican donor base," Carrick said. "President Bush, for all his political troubles, never lost the affection of that politicall group. He had a real devoted cadre of people who showed up and they shook the trees and got people to give."

The key difference between Bush and Obama is that the latter has attended more fundraisers and traveled around the country more to raise money.

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, Bush cut back on cross-country travel and preferred to hold such engagements in Washington, D.C.

Obama has taken some heat from the right for holding events at a time when unemployment is rising and the economy remains weak. It's not about appeasing the general voters, consultants say, but about rallying the base, the main group that comes to vote in the mid-term elections. Such criticism has also been leveled at nearly every president.

"Swing voters don't turn out in the same numbers as they do in presidential years," Buck said. "It's really more a question of whether Obama rallies Democrats to turn out."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events