WASHINGTON Fundraising for Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry, who has raised millions since declaring his candidacy in August, has slowed significantly, exacerbated by poor debate performances, sources close to his campaign said on Friday.
The Texas governor once sat atop national polls and led the money race during the most recent reporting quarter, but gaffes and other problems in a string of televised Republican candidates' debates has eaten into his backing.
Perry's predicament worsened after a debate on Wednesday when he became tongue-tied while trying to explain what government departments he would eliminate if elected president.
"Their fund-raising has ground to a halt. It ground to a halt before the debate this week,"," said a prominent Republican source familiar with the situation who asked not to be identified.
Perry amassed $17 million in his first fundraising quarter ending September 30, besting Republican rival and Bain Capital co-founder Mitt Romney, after holding a series of splashy introductory events in Texas, California and New York.
Perry's financial and popular support has slipped since a dreary debate performance in Florida in late September, which was followed by a surge in support for rival Herman Cain.
At Wednesday's debate in Michigan, Perry stumbled when he announced he would eliminate three federal agencies but failed to name the third after stuttering for about a minute. He remembered the answer a little later, but the damage was done.
Perry's campaign went into damage control on Thursday, putting the governor front and center on news shows and allowing him to mock himself in an appearance on late night talk show host David Letterman's program.
But that effort, although praised as making the best out of a bad situation, is not likely to boost Perry's campaign cash, one of his fundraisers said.
"I think they are not going to have any money coming in for the next month," said the Perry fundraiser, who did not want to be named due to the sensitive nature of the situation.
Perry's campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
A Republican strategist very close to the campaign said the slowdown in donations can partly be attributed to strategy, in which Perry will now spend more of his time on the ground introducing himself to voters.
"It is a tougher sell," said the strategist, who asked not to be named. "But my hunch is that mostly, what you're seeing is what was planned."
Perry is now a distant fourth behind Romney, Cain and Newt Gingrich, according to an average of polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.
Veteran fundraiser Barry Wynn, who is helping Perry organize in South Carolina, one of the early primary states, said a slowdown is natural, given his fast start.
"It started off kind of gangbusters and that is always the low hanging fruit," Wynn said. "Regardless of the debate problems, it was bound to be tougher."
(Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington and Karen Brooks in Austin; Editing by Paul Simao)