Four months after Barack Obama first announced for president in 2007, Steve Lerner hosted a fundraiser for the Illinois senator at his Chapel Hill home.
He’s been raising money for Obama ever since.
Building on the fundraising base he helped start five years ago, Lerner has raised more than $137,000 for Obama’s re-election campaign. He and other so-called “bundlers” have helped the president raise more than $7.6 million in North Carolina since early 2011.
Republican Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has raised $5.8 million from North Carolina donors, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. The figures don’t include contributions to so-called Super PACs that back the candidates.
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Since Romney effectively won the nomination last spring, Obama has outraised him by around $600,000 in the state, according to an Observer analysis of contributions to the two campaigns.
Obama’s fundraising strength has come from the Triangle. He raised about $2.7 million from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, roughly $1.6 million more than Romney has.
Romney rode fundraisers at Myers Park Country Club and the Duke Mansion to a wide edge among Charlotte donors, who gave him more than $1.2 million. Obama raised about $800,000 from Queen City contributors.
Obama enjoyed an advantage among health care professionals and lawyers. Doctors and others in the field contributed $1.1 million to Obama compared with $490,000 to Romney.
Lawyers contributed more than twice as much to Obama than Romney.
Romney’s support has come from bankers and others in the finance industry as well as business owners.
Romney’s donors tend to be fewer and bigger. Obama, with an aggressive Internet fundraising campaign, has more donors giving smaller amounts.
Obama’s North Carolina money came from 66,000 donations. Romney’s came from about 13,000 donations.
Polls show Romney lead
Both campaigns continue to fight for North Carolina even as polls show Romney with a consistent lead. On Wednesday the RealClearPolitics poll average showed the former governor up by nearly 6 points, and CNN shifted the state from tossup to “lean Romney.”
But the Obama campaign says early-voting numbers are promising for the president.
Both sides see fundraising as a reflection of enthusiasm.
“We’ve been incredibly successful in North Carolina,” said Dave Phillips, a High Point furniture executive and Romney’s state finance chair.
Lerner said Obama has built on the network that started in 2007.
“The biggest reason (for the advantage),” he said, “is that we’ve been doing it longer and we had carryover lists of names that date back to ’07 and ’08 who are still very enthusiastic about him.”
Lerner bundles donations for Obama. According to a list released by the Obama campaign and catalogued by the Center for Responsive Politics, Obama’s bundlers also include former textile executive Crandall Bowles of Charlotte, who raised $537,000.
Most North Carolina bundlers for Obama are from the Triangle. One, Amy Tiemann of the software company Red Hat, raised $474,000. John Replogle, CEO of a “green” cleaning products firm called Seventh Generation, raised $248,000.
In Mecklenburg County, donations to the candidates fell largely along income lines.
Around Lake Norman and in the south Charlotte area between South and Independence boulevards, median household income can top $100,000. There, Romney picked up heavy donations.
In neighborhoods near the intersection of Providence and Queens roads, for instance, donors gave Romney $331,000 and Obama, $72,700. That’s also one of Charlotte’s most affluent areas with a median household income of $219,000 – more than four times the city’s median, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Meanwhile, Obama outraised Romney in lower-income areas – particularly those north or west of uptown.
Residents in the areas around North Tryon Street and Old Concord Road made 198 donations to Obama for nearly $19,000. Romney got 11 donations for $4,600. Some neighborhoods in that section of Charlotte have a median income as low as $29,500.
Across the state, some of Obama’s biggest support came from health care interests.
One Charlotte radiologist supports the Affordable Care Act, passed under Obama.
“There are too many people that are uninsured (or) don’t have proper access to health care,” said Matthew Gromet, who gave $5,000. “There are people who fall between the cracks with pre-existing conditions or other circumstances. We see the personal tragedy side of this.”
Obama’s North Carolina take has grown, peaking at $2 million in September. Romney’s rose to $1.2 million August but slipped to $1.1 million last month.
Phillips, Romney’s state fundraising chair, said he’s encouraged. On Wednesday he got a call from an elderly woman who wanted to contribute.
“She said ‘There’s a figure I feel comfortable with,’ ” Phillips recalled. “And she said, ‘$30,000.’ ”
“That was a startling thing,” said Phillips, who made arrangements for her to give the money to a joint fundraising committee of the Republican Party and Romney campaign.