Why Obama Won't Share His Cash With Congressional Democrats

Uneasy about the threat of outside spending from super PACs, the presidents campaign has told down-ballot candidates not to expect monetary help.

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In Obamaland, the 3 a.m. phone call has become the 3 a.m. email.

In their own way, both speak to a crisis mentality and a groping for security. The contexts couldn't be more different, but the anxiety -- real and imagined --is no less genuine.

To review, the 3 a.m. phone call was in a TV ad Hillary Rodham Clinton ran against Obama in the heat of the Texas and Ohio primaries in 2008. It asked voters to ponder the fate of America if Barack Obama were president and a national crisis struck in the middle of the night.

Now, the 3 a.m. email is one sent by campaign manager Jim Messina to Obama supporters the morning after Super Tuesday. Messina sent the email at 3:14 a.m. EST, less than an hour after Super Tuesday officially ended with Mitt Romney winning the Alaska caucuses. Messina was begging for money, imploring potential donors to pony up and not be lulled into a false state of euphoria by the protracted GOP brawl for the nomination.

"Too many Obama supporters are waiting until there's a clear Republican nominee to make their first donation," Messina wrote. "That kind of thinking loses elections."

When asked about the middle-of-the-night missive, Messina sheepishly replied: "I'm not a big sleeper."

In fact, Obama's reelection campaign has a split personality when it comes to the general election. One side is confident and growing more so about the turbulent GOP primary, an improving U.S. economy, and better numbers for Obama in swing states. The other side harbors fears bordering on paranoia about massive spending by the GOP and outside super PACs for the party's nominee.

"There is already unprecedented super-PAC spending going on," Messina said. "There will be super-PAC spending in key states against us. We have to be prepared for that."

To prepare for it, Obama's campaign has put the rest of the Democratic Party on a starvation diet. Messina and senior White House adviser David Plouffe (Obama's 2008 campaign manager) have told top Democrats that they won't receive any cash transfers from Obama's campaign or the Democratic National Committee. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sought commitments for $30 million, the amount distributed to them in the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. Not this time.

Messina said that the campaign fears outside groups will devote upward of $500 million to anti-Obama super-PAC TV ads as soon as the GOP nominee (likely to be Romney) is decided. By comparison, GOP nominee John McCain spent $333 million on his campaign, and outside groups spent $26 million supporting him. Obama spent $730 million in that campaign, and outside groups spent $88 million attacking him.

"We are in a whole new world here," senior campaign adviser David Axelrod said. "The president has taken on some very powerful interests and the Citizens United ruling allows those interest groups to siphon off unlimited amounts of money. We would be insane not to be worried about that. We believe we have the strongest candidate, but money does matter."

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Major Garrett is a congressional correspondent for National Journal.

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