Obama $68M fourth quarter haul dwarfs Republicans

President Barack Obama raked in more than $68 million combined for his re-election campaign and the Democratic Party during the final three months of 2011, gearing up for a formidable challenge against his Republican opponent later this year.

The large fundraising quarter helped Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee surpass $220 million in 2011, bankrolling the president's re-election campaign as Republicans settle on a nominee. Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney raised $56 million for the primary through Dec. 31, his campaign announced Wednesday, far outpacing his GOP opponents.

Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Thursday in a video to supporters that the campaign collected more than $42 million for the quarter, with the DNC bringing in more than $24 million, along with $1 million for a joint fund to help state parties in key states. The amount helped the president's team beat an internal goal of $60 million combined for the quarter.

Obama's campaign collected $750 million in 2008, prompting speculation that it could top $1 billion this time. Messina said the lofty figures have created "a challenge that keeps coming up. Too many Obama supporters think we don't need their money or they don't need to give now."

However, Messina said, "The billion-dollar number is completely untrue."

Obama, facing no primary opponent, has stockpiled a large campaign bank account, but Democrats expect parity with Republicans once the party chooses a nominee. Romney has been a formidable fundraiser and most party leaders expect a large amount of money to flow into his campaign if he sews up the nomination. Republican-leaning Super PACs have also fared better than Democratic-backed outside groups, further offsetting the president's fundraising.

Obama's campaign has emphasized a large number of donors and small donations generated from online giving. Messina said the campaign and DNC had generated 1.3 million donors, with 583,000 people giving during the most recent quarter. More than 98 percent were for donations of $250 or less and the average donation was $55, Messina said.

The money will help build Obama's organization and let his advisers prepare for the upcoming campaign, a point the president emphasized at a large Chicago fundraiser on Wednesday night.

"If you're willing to work even harder in this election than you did in that last election, I promise you change will come," Obama said. "If you stick with me, we're going to finish what we started in 2008."