WASHINGTON Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney and his allies raised $170.5 million in September, the campaign said on Monday, falling just short of the 2012 fundraising record set last month by Democratic rival President Barack Obama.
Republicans began October with $191.2 million in cash on hand - money ready to be spent on advertising, get-out-the-vote efforts, staff, offices, rallies and other campaigning in the weeks before the November 6 election.
Obama and the Democratic National Committee already have reported raising $181 million in September, the best mark so far in the most expensive presidential election campaign in U.S. history. They did not disclose how much they had left in cash on hand.
September was the second consecutive month in which the Democrats out raised Romney's team after three months of the Republicans leading the way in fundraising.
It was also one of the toughest months for Romney: His position weakened in the polls first as a result of the new focus shifting to the Democratic Party Convention and then to a secretly filmed video that showed him calling 47 percent of Americans who receive government funds "victims."
Romney regained footing earlier this month when he delivered a strong performance against Obama in the first presidential debate on October 3. Campaign officials said the debate kicked up donations and helped the Republican candidate gain on the incumbent in the polls just weeks ahead of Election Day.
"Americans can't afford four more years like the last four," Spencer Zwick, Romney's finance chairman, said in a statement.
"With less than one month left, we will continue the hard work of raising the resources to ensure that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan can win in November and bring real change to the American people."
Obama has since regained a slim lead in the tight race. The Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Monday showed him at 47 percent compared with Romney's 45 percent.
"This race is tied," Obama said in an email to supporters asking for last-minute donations on Monday. "What we do over the next 22 days will determine not just the next four years, but what this country looks like for decades to come."
DONORS AND FUNDRAISERS
Romney's financial operation has relied heavily on large checks written by wealthy supporters, in contrast to the Obama campaign, which has been aggressively courting such donors as well but relies mostly on smaller contributions.
The Romney campaign said it received more than 1 million donations in September in checks of less than $250, which were responsible for a total of $43.2 million.
Of all the cash received, 93 percent of all donations were of $250 or less, the campaign said. That means some $127 million was raised through less than 7 percent of the donations.
The Romney campaign continued to court large donors this week as some of the most influential of them gathered at a luxury hotel in Manhattan for a three-day "fall retreat" that started Monday.
The gathering was expected to include "special guests" including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, real estate magnate and reality TV star Donald Trump, and Oklahoma oilman and Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm.
Others expected to attend include Charles Schwab Corp CEO Charles Schwab and Jimmy John's sandwich franchise CEO Jimmy John Liautaud, according to an invitation posted by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that seeks more transparency in campaign finance.
The major fundraisers and donors were scheduled to attend election strategy meetings with top Romney campaign staff and mingle with vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
Romney had originally planned to join in, but changed plans on Monday to prepare for the second presidential debate against Obama on Tuesday night at New York's Hofstra University.
Obama's campaign, which holds the all-time fundraising record for its 2008 efforts, said it held its last fundraising event last week. In 2008, Obama's campaign and the DNC together brought in $193 million in September and came close to raising $1 billion overall.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason in Williamsburg, Virginia, and Sam Youngman in Boston; Editing by David Lindsey and Todd Eastham)