WASHINGTON Mitt Romney's campaign raised more than $14 million in the third quarter, signaling that the Republican presidential hopeful's fundraising remains robust despite shifts in opinion polls.
Romney's ability to raise cash was second among Republicans only to that of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who hauled in $17 million in the same June to September period.
It means both men have strong war chests as they head into campaign battles in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, which could play a huge role in determining who wins the Republican nomination to oppose President Barack Obama's bid for re-election next year.
"Money is critical partly because it helps send voters a signal about which candidates are viable," said Costas Panagopoulos, director of a politics center at Fordham University. "One of the things that put Obama on the map in 2008 was his ability to raise formidable sums of money."
Whoever wins the nomination will need fundraising prowess. Obama and the Democratic Party together raised $70 million in the third quarter, after amassing $86 million in the second, and Obama does not need to finance a primary fight.
Romney's campaign also raised nearly half a million dollars -- $479,660 -- from just six "bundlers," major supporters who gather money for a candidate from other donors.
But it also boosted the percentage of donations in increments of $200 or less, according to his regulatory filing, about $2 million of the $14 million, or 14 percent. In the second quarter, Romney only took in about 6 percent of his total in such small amounts.
Romney's campaign also said it had almost $15 million in cash on hand on September 30.
Although Romney has raised more than he did in his last White House bid, his percentage of support in national polls has held steady for months as he has failed to break through and win the backing of even one in four Republican voters, even as he remained first or second in national polls.
Perry briefly passed Romney to become front-runner after he launched his campaign in August, but he faded after a series of missteps. Businessman Herman Cain now leads in some polls.
GATHERING DOLLARS, NOT SUPPORTERS
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and co-founder of the private equity firm Bain Capital, has the support of much of the Republican establishment, but has yet to excite the party's conservative base.
"He's flatlined," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. Perry's support was well over 30 percent but has dropped by about half, while Cain's has more than tripled to the high teens in recent weeks as supporters move between the two conservatives, not to Romney.
Expectations had been that Romney and most other candidates would pull in less cash in the third quarter than in the previous three months, when Romney raised $18 million.
The July through September fund-raising period is typically weak, largely due to the summer vacation season.
Candidates have until midnight on Saturday to file their third-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission. The other Republican White House hopefuls are not likely to pass the $10 million mark for the three months.
Cain does not have a large fundraising operation and raised only $2 million in the second quarter, but could see a bump after a surprise straw poll win and his improved poll numbers.
At this point in the 2007 Republican contest, Romney reported $18 million - but he wrote himself an $8.5 million check. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was leading in some polls, had raised about $10 million.
Romney, who dropped out in early 2008 after disappointing primary showings, spent $35 million of his own funds in that bid. Despite a personal fortune estimated at $250 million, he has lent his campaign no funds so far for 2012.
The 2012 U.S. election should be the priciest ever, with Obama expected to raise more than his record $750 million from 2008. And newly relaxed U.S. fundraising laws will add hundreds of millions of dollars from "Super Political Action Committees," officially deemed separate from campaigns, even when devoted to electing particular candidates.
"Let's say Barack Obama raises a billion dollars. Awesome. Let's say the Koch brothers decide to contribute their pocket change to a (competing) SuperPAC. Not so awesome anymore," said American Enterprise Institute scholar Norm Ornstein.
Ornstein was referring to the conservative David and Charles Koch, of conglomerate Koch Industries, who are thought to be planning to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat Obama and elect Republicans in 2012.
(Editing by Todd Eastham)