By Jeff Mason and Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama's re-election campaign and its Democratic allies raised more than $68 million in the last three months of 2011, dwarfing Republican rivals as the White House race approaches.
In a video message sent to supporters on Thursday, Obama's 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina announced the haul, which brings the shared fundraising by Obama's campaign and the Democratic National Committee at over $200 million for 2011.
With most of that money said to be coming in small-dollar sums from thousands of Americans, the fundraising gives Obama, a Democrat, a nice cushion as he campaigns for re-election against Republicans sparring to see who will be their nominee in November's election.
Although the money given to the DNC is effectively Obama's for grabs, his own campaign -- which faces lower contribution limits -- received $42 million during the last three months of 2011.
Still, that far outstrips the amounts donated to the Republican campaigns, which do not yet receive financial backing from the Republican National Committee.
Front-runner Mitt Romney's campaign said on Wednesday it had raised $24 million in the fourth quarter. Ron Paul raised $13 million and Newt Gingrich raised $9 million.
The Obama team is shooting to top the roughly $750 million it raised when he was elected president in 2008.
Much of Obama's success in 2008 was credited to his grassroots support illustrated by small donations, which Messina said continue to flow. Similar to the previous quarterly report, 98 percent of the donations to Obama's campaign were made up of $250 or less, he said.
In the video, Messina again rejected the expectation that the campaign would raise $1 billion. That false expectation, he said, was giving donors the misimpression Obama did not need their financial support.
"Too many Obama supporters think we don't need their money, or they don't need to give now," he said in the video.
"We won in 2008 because every single supporter and volunteer viewed their role in this campaign as absolutely essential to us winning. But now we're in danger of letting that very belief slip through our fingers this time."
One major campaign donor highlighted the financial challenge Obama faces from "Super PACs," the groups that technically cannot directly communicate with campaigns but can accept unlimited donations in support of a candidate.
"The race is going to be expensive. The fact is that there are these unlimited buckets of (Republican) PAC money," he said.
"The Obama campaign is going to need money from here for the duration. And once (the Republicans) have a nominee, that's when it starts getting expensive."
Some 1.3 million Americans gave to Obama's campaign last year, including 583,000 donors in the fourth quarter alone. Of those, almost a third were first-time donors, Messina said.
The campaign beat its goal of raising $60 million in the fourth quarter, although the amount brought in was just under $70 million raised in the third quarter. Through the end of September, the campaign and the DNC had raised roughly $155 million.
Messina's email to supporters asked them to chip in $25 now; often Obama fundraising appeals start with a much lower $3 donation request.
The campaigns have until Jan 31 to release their full fourth quarter reports.
(additional reporting by Eric Johnson in Chicago and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Philip Barbara)