GREER, South Carolina (AFP)
| US President Barack Obama addresses a campaign event at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Wednesday. Obama and his Democratic Party raised over $68 million in the last quarter of 2011 for this year's White House and congressional elections, his campaign says. - GREER, South Carolina (AFP)
Republicans got a stark reminder Thursday of President Barack Obama's juggernaut re-election campaign, as he and his Democratic party scooped up nearly $70 million in the last months of 2011.
While the Republican White House hopefuls stumped in South Carolina and Florida -- which hold their primaries on January 21 and 31 respectively -- Obama campaign chief Jim Messina announced the robust haul of campaign cash.
The Democratic total included more than $42 million for the embattled president's fight for a second term, a pitched battle shaped by the sour US economy and voter concerns about high unemployment.
Another $24 million filled the coffers of the Democratic National Committee, which acts as the White House's political arm and will fund Democratic candidates at all levels in the November 6 elections.
Despite the vast sums, Messina warned supporters in a fresh fundraising appeal not to take "another strong quarter" as a sign they can assume the president will have the necessary funds to battle his Republican foe.
"The biggest difference between 2008 and 2012 from a fundraising perspective is that some supporters have begun to think that somehow other people are going to take care of things and it will be fine," he said.
"But there's no secret strategy that we can count on. There is no cavalry. There's only you," said Messina, who rejected oft-cited Republican warnings that the incumbent could raise one billion dollars.
Fundraising is crucial in US elections, with massive sums needed to finance campaigning across the country and pay for television advertising considered vital to building a candidate's message while combating opponents.
And a recent US Supreme Court decision has opened the door to so-called super-PACS (political action committees), which must operate independently of the candidates but can raise unlimited funds.
Mitt Romney, whose victories in Iowa and New Hampshire nominating contests have made him the clear favorite to win the Republican nomination to take on Obama, has been helped by a super-PAC that unleashed a relentless barrage of attack ads on former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich allies, buoyed by a reported $5 million donation from a casino magnate, planned to fight back here with a $3.4 million onslaught painting Romney as a callous corporate raider who made millions while firing workers.
"So this is going to be Armageddon. I mean they will come in here with everything they've got, every surrogate, every ad, every negative attack," Gingrich told CNN.
Romney's campaign announced Wednesday that it had scooped up $24 million in the final quarter of 2011 and had $19 million in cash on hand -- despite only raising funds for the primary fight, not the battle against Obama.
"In order to defeat President Obama in November, we will need this continued strong showing of support," the Republican's campaign finance chairman, Spencer Zwick, said in a statement.
And the Romney-allied super-PAC, "Restore Our Future," which blew Gingrich's once-strong support in Iowa to pieces, planned to keep up its offensive in the next two primary states, according to spokeswoman Brittany Gross.
"In South Carolina beginning on Monday we placed an ad buy for $2.3 million. And yesterday (Tuesday) we placed an ad buy in Florida for $3.4 million," she said.
Republican Senator John McCain, a sharp critic of the floods of money swamping US politics, said Thursday that Romney would "absolutely" sew up the nomination with victory over his more conservative foes in South Carolina.
"That's why you're seeing such ferocity" from Romney's rivals, McCain, his party's failed presidential candidate in 2008, told CBS television. "Frankly, I think we've got a real shot in November."
Meanwhile, First Lady Michelle Obama opened a new front in her husband's reelection battle, snapping up more than 150,000 followers as she set up an official campaign account on Twitter.
"Hi, everyone, and thanks for the warm welcome. Look forward to staying in touch with you here," @michelleobama said in a personal tweet, authenticated by her initials "mo."
The account will be run by Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, and is similar to @BarackObama's Twitter output, which is also mostly a product of campaign staff.