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The campaign contribution scramble: Will Mitt Romney keep GOP lead?

Only a few days are left until third-quarter fundraising reports are due. Mitt Romney led the GOP field last quarter, but Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and others are sprinting hard for campaign contributions.

By Staff writer / September 27, 2011

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, arrive at the Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich., Saturday.

Carlos Osorio/AP

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Washington

Bipartisanship may be in short supply these days, but here’s one point of agreement: The third quarter of 2011 ends on Friday night, and all the presidential candidates – including President Obama – are sprinting to raise as much cash as possible before then.

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Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has raised more than twice as much money from Wall Street donors as Barack Obama. Romney gained that edge by luring away at least 100 donors, mostly investors, who backed the president in 2008.

Each candidate faces his or her own expectations. For Mr. Obama, who faces no serious opposition for the Democratic nomination, it’s all about stuffing intimidating quantities of cash into the general election coffers. He aims to outdo his total from the 2008 race – a record $750 million – and he still appears to be on track. But with a down economy and some of his former donors leaving him, it’s not clear that he can reach $1 billion.

On the Republican side, Texas Gov. Rick Perry's fundraising numbers will provide a clue as to his strength as a candidate, after three weak debate performances and two second-place finishes in straw polls. Governor Perry entered the GOP nomination race on Aug. 13, so he’s still playing catch-up. But as governor, he was great at raising money. The question is whether he can make inroads into the fundraising lead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

“Perry doesn’t have to beat Romney” in third-quarter fundraising, says Larry Sabato, head of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. “But he needs a boost. He needs to come in with a number that’s eye-popping.”

Perry’s campaign has set a $10 million target for the quarter, after knocking down reports that he’d raised $20 million in just his first few events. Analysts expect him to come in at more than $10 million, but it’s clear he would have done better if his debate performances had been stronger. According to news reports, some potential Perry donors are sitting on their hands and waiting to see if the governor can recover in the next debate Oct. 11.

Perry is also limited by a Securities and Exchange Commission rule that bars campaign contributions from firms that are handling his state’s public pension funds. That is hindering his ability to fundraise on Wall Street. At the same time, Mr. Romney is poaching former Obama donors on Wall Street. So far, Romney has raised more than twice as much Wall Street money as Obama – $2.3 million versus $857,000 – according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics compiled by Bloomberg.

Romney, still trailing Perry in the polls, raised $18.3 million in the second quarter of 2011 – more than all the other Republican candidates combined. But reports indicate he will not reach that total in the third quarter. Typically, the quarter following the first big round of fundraising is difficult, as the “low-hanging fruit” has already been plucked and sure-thing donors have reached the maximum.

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