WASHINGTON — Republican Rick Perry raised more than $17 million in his first seven weeks running for president, a large haul that helps cement his status as the top alternative to rival Mitt Romney despite the Texas governor's recent campaign struggles.
GOP opponent Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who is a favorite of libertarians, brought in $8 million and, in doing so, proved that he's in the race for the long-haul even though he hasn't been able to break into the top tier of candidates in national polling.
"We are very pleased," Paul said of his fundraising, calling his number "pretty sound."
Of the rest of the GOP field, only Romney was expected to come close to either of those totals for the three-month fundraising quarter that ended Sept. 30; the former Massachusetts governor is expected to raise less than the $18 million he brought in during his first three-month fundraising period.
No one is expected to approach President Barack Obama's totals; his campaign and the Democratic National Committee have set a combined goal of $55 million for the quarter. A record-shattering fundraiser, Obama raised $750 million for the 2008 primary and general elections.
Fundraising totals provide one measure of the strength of candidates' campaigns as they work not only to pay for ongoing campaign operations but also to stockpile cash for what's expected to be an expensive and drawn out GOP nominating fight.
The money reported by the Republican candidates doesn't take into account money being raised by independent organizations working to help their preferred nominee get elected by raising and spending unlimited amounts of money to run ads supporting their candidate or attacking a rival. Both Perry and Romney have at least one super PAC working to boost their candidacies. Another super PAC is backing Obama's re-election bid.
Three months before voting begins, the GOP nomination fight is largely between two candidates — Perry and Romney — now that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has made clear he won't get in the race. Both Perry and Romney are posting the biggest numbers in the GOP field, and now they're making plays for donors who had been sitting on the sidelines in hopes of Christie getting in the race.
In a show of force after a couple of rocky weeks, Perry's campaign announced early Wednesday that he has $15 million in cash on hand from the money raised from August 13, when he entered the race, through Sept. 30, the end of the three-month fundraising quarter.
Nearly half of his money came from donors who live in Texas, underscoring Perry's challenge to expand his pool of benefactors beyond his traditional in-state base. His campaign indicated he was making progress, saying that 51 percent of the money came from people who live somewhere else in the country. He had more than 22,000 contributors.
Almost all of the money is for use in the GOP primary election. About $50,000 was raised for a general election fund in case Perry wins the GOP nomination.
It was a positive sign after an otherwise dreary month for Perry.
He sat atop national and state polls after getting into the race in mid-August. But he turned in a few shaky debate performances last month and was on defense over his positions on immigration and Social Security. As October began, Perry's support had dropped considerably in national polls and he started facing questions about the racially offensive name once on a rock outside of the Texas hunting camp his family had leased.
Perry's haul shows that his troubles don't yet seem to be affecting his fundraising — though that won't become clear until the full reports are filed with the Federal Election Commission. Candidates have until Oct. 15 to do so.
Despite Perry's strong number, Romney still has a big head start. He's been raising money for longer, likely has more cash in the bank and has a national fundraising network that he's been building since he first ran for president in 2008.
Paul's totals can be largely attributed to his strong online fundraising apparatus and his base of small-dollar donors.
The congressman, who raised $4.5 million in his first three months, said he has more than 100,000 donors
Of the other presidential contenders, businessman Herman Cain has shown strong grassroots support in recent weeks and could post higher numbers because of that. The others — including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum — will likely lag far behind.