WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised almost as much money as President Barack Obama last month, taking in more than $40.1 million in fundraising efforts for his campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Romney's April contributions, released on Thursday, are three times the amount the presumptive Republican nominee raised in March. The surge comes as other party rivals dropped out, allowing the former Massachusetts governor and business executive to team up with the RNC.
"Here in the Southeast, all the folks who were enthusiastic and supporting all the other primary candidates, almost 100 percent of these folks are getting on board," said Barry Wynn, a prominent Romney fundraiser in South Carolina.
"You're always going to see an explosion of momentum once you have the candidate. ... The key at this point would be to make sure you could sustain that momentum."
Romney's figures come one day after the Obama campaign disclosed that it and the Democratic National Committee raised $43.6 million in April, a decline from the previous month.
In March, Romney raised $12.6 million compared to Obama's more than $53 million.
Romney's ability to close in on the Obama campaign in fundraising showed Republicans were solidifying behind the former governor ahead of the November 6 election.
The Romney campaign said 95 percent of the donations last month were $250 or less.
At the end of March, Obama's team emerged with ten times more cash in the bank than Romney's at $104.1 million. But by the end of April, the amount of cash Romney and his supporters had on hand jumped to $61.4 million from $10.1 million.
The Obama campaign has not yet disclosed how much cash it had in hand at the end of April.
Romney has devoted much of the past month to fundraising, and this week is on a two-day fundraising tour in Florida that was expected to net about $10 million for his campaign.
Both Democrats and Republicans are expected to spend as much as $1 billion on campaigning for the White House. The money race gets a special boost from the presence of Super PACs, a relatively new breed of outside political groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts as long as they do not coordinate with campaigns.
Republicans were swifter to embrace the notion, launching the deep-pocketed pro-Romney Super PAC, Restore Our Future, far ahead of any Democratic group. The pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, has yet to catch up to the nearly $52 million that Restore had raised by the end of March.
Priorities had raised just under $9 million by that time.
Facing attack ads from Restore and other influential groups opposing Obama, the president's re-election campaign has so far received little relief from Priorities and has started to invest heavily in advertising itself.
Presidential campaigns and most Super PACs are due to file complete April fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission by May 20.
"Mitt Romney has the record and plan to turn our country around - that is why he is receiving such enthusiastic support from voters across the country," RNC chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement. "Along with the campaign, we will work to provide the resources so that we can defeat President Obama and change the direction of the country."
The RNC and Romney's campaign joined fundraising forces in early April as the field of Republican presidential candidates narrowed. A joint fund greatly increases how much a donor can give to help a candidate, thanks to larger contributions allowed for party organizations in addition to the campaign.
Obama, facing no challengers within his party, has been jointly fundraising with the Democratic party for months.
Campaigns can take only $2,500 per contribution during the primary process and another $2,500 per contribution for the general election. With a joint effort, a donor can also give up to $70,800 to the RNC and its local, state and district branches.
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Steve Holland; Editing by Vicki Allen and Jim Loney