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Rick Perry’s $17 million fundraising total appears to lead Republican field

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry appears to have raised more money than his GOP rivals in the first six weeks of his campaign, suggesting that the Texas governor remains competitive despite a series of major stumbles that have hurt his standing in the race.

Perry’s campaign said it will report raising at least $17 million during the fundraising quarter that ended in September, an unexpectedly strong total that is likely to put him ahead of Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates for the same period. Perry did not announce his candidacy until mid-August, giving him half as much time as his rivals to raise that total.

Libertarian Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), a long-shot candidate, also said he had a strong fundraising period, taking in $8 million from July through September, up from $4.5 million in the second quarter.

The new fundraising numbers come at a pivotal point in a Republican nomination race that is rapidly coalescing around Perry and Romney, both of whom will need serious reserves to navigate contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and other early states starting in January.

For Perry, the haul provides a crucial jolt of momentum. His campaign said he took in contributions from more than 22,000 donors from all 50 states, though half the donors came from Texas. He had $15 million on hand as of Sept. 30, the campaign said.

“The generous contributions from Americans across the nation prove the overwhelming support for Gov. Perry’s principled, conservative leadership and vision to get America working again,” said a statement from Perry campaign manager Rob Johnson.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has not released his fundraising totals for the quarter; they are not due at the Federal Election Commission until Oct. 15. Backers have said he will probably report raising between $11 million and $13 million, compared with $18 million in the second quarter. No other candidate is expected to surpass Romney or Perry in fundraising.

Perry’s total is “less than what Mitt Romney raised in the first quarter, and we feel good in the strength of our finance team and the fact that we are adding new people every day,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

Both the Perry and Romney campaigns are jockeying to attract uncommitted donors in the wake of the announcement by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday that he will not seek the nomination, as a number of well-funded backers had hoped.

Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone and several other Republican financiers who had been urging Christie to run are now supporting Romney, aides said.

One of Romney’s top fundraisers also said Wednesday that “dozens” of bundlers have signed up with the campaign, pledging to raise $100,000 or more, since Christie’s announcement. Romney has been wooing such bundlers all year, and many of them came on board after talking personally with the candidate or his top aides, including finance chairman Spencer Zwick, after Christie’s decision.

The Republican field overall has seemed to struggle to raise money compared with the same period four years ago, whether because of the sour economy or a possible enthusiasm gap. Romney, for example, had raised $45 million from donors by this time in 2007, compared with about $30 million this time.

President Obama, who ranks as the preeminent fundraiser in U.S. political history, is expected to report raising about $55 million in the third quarter for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee, down from $86 million from April to June.

Rucker reported from Florida.

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