Mitt Romney's campaign raised more than $14 million in the third quarter, signaling that the Republican U.S. presidential hopeful's fund-raising remains robust despite big swings in opinion polls.
His fundraising performance was second only to Texas Governor Rick Perry, who hauled in $17 million in the same June to September period, and builds strong war chests for both men as they head into the campaign battles in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
The Republican race to take on President Barack Obama in 2012 has had wild swings, though Romney has stayed near the top throughout. Romney has raised more -- without dipping into his own pockets as he did four years ago -- than he did in his previous White House bid.
Perry's entry caused a splash before a series of missteps, while pizza executive Herman Cain is now leading some polls among the candidates seeking the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and co-founder of Bain Capital, has taken on the mantle of front-runner in many ways in recent weeks, solidifying support from a broad array of the Republican establishment and big time donors but he has yet to excite the Republican party's conservative base.
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.
Romney's campaign Friday also said it had $14 million in cash on hand, with 83 percent from donations of $250 or less.
Expectations had been that Romney and most other candidates in the 2012 election would pull in less cash in the third quarter than in the three months ended in June, when Romney took in $18 million.
The July through September fund-raising period is typically weak, largely due to the summer vacation season.
At this point in the 2007 Republican contest, Romney reported $18 million - but he wrote himself a $8.5 million check to help out. At the time, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was leading in some polls, 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. He has lent his campaign no funds so far for 2012.
The campaigns are releasing selective figures this week. Full reports are due to U.S. regulators by October 15.
Obama's campaign reported raising $70 million in the third quarter, including funds raised for the Democratic National Committee.
The 2012 election is expected to be the priciest ever, with Obama expected to raise more than his record-breaking $750 million from 2008.
As a result of Supreme Court and other legal decisions loosening campaign finance rules, the proliferation of outside spending groups with no contribution limits is expected to add hundreds of millions of dollars in new cash.
Romney and Obama both have what are known as super political action committees devoted solely to electing them. Priorities USA, run by former Obama operatives, plans to raise and spend $100 million during the election cycle.
A group run by Romney's former advisers, Restore Our Future, has raised $12 million since opening a few months ago.
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 referred to the conservative David and Charles Koch, of conglomerate Koch Industries, who are planning to spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat Obama and elect Republicans to their liking in 2012.
Other Republican hopefuls are not likely to pass the $10 million mark.
Cain does not have a large fundraising operation and raised only $2 million in the second quarter, but he could see a bump as a result of his surprise win in a Florida straw poll and his advancement in national polls.
Ron Paul has said he raised $8 million in the third quarter. Paul also backs support from big donors.