Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign collected $17 million in less than 50 days of active fundraising, a considerable sum that provides some good news for a presidential candidate desperately seeking some.

NEWPORT BEACH, CA - SEPTEMBER 08: Supporters of Republican presidential candidate and Texas Gov. Rick Perry attend a rally held by the Orange County Republican party at Roger's Gardens on September 8, 2011 in Newport Beach, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Steve Gordon, a veteran Republican fundraiser, said that Perry’s money wins him “not a second look but maybe a second peek.” Added Gordon: “He certainly messed up his introduction on the national stage.”

At the start of this week, the dominant Perry storyline was of a candidate in free fall — amid weaker-than-expected debate performances and a Post story alleging that a hunting camp his family owned was long marked by a racial epithet.

Polling affirmed that narrative. The latest Washington Post-ABC News poll put Perry at 16 percent in a national primary ballot, roughly half of the 29 percent he received in an early September Post-ABC survey.

Perry’s money bends that arc in a more favorable direction — at least for the moment.

“Endorsements, earned media and momentum matter but cash is king,” said Rob Collins, a senior Republican strategist unaligned in the 2012 race. “If Perry can match this early fundraising pace for the next few months, he will be able to fund the upcoming 45-day multi-state campaign sprint.”

What Perry’s money makes clear — on a symbolic level — is that he remains a serious candidate who will almost certainly be the lone, serious conservative alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

That image also got a major boost on Tuesday when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie removed himself — again — from the presidential race.

“I think it definitely earns him a second look particularly in view of Christie’s decision,” said one veteran Republican operative granted anonymity to speak candidly about Perry’s prospects. “Since there apparently will be no knight arriving in the field, primary voters must refocus on the two likely finishers.”

There are also practical reasons why Perry’s fundraising matters.

The truncating of the first month of the Republican primary season — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida will all vote before the end of January 2012 — means that a candidate must be able to raise between $30-$50 million in order to simply fund serious campaigns (television ads, direct mail, voter identification and turnout efforts) in the majority of those states.

“Iowa demands organization, New Hampshire demands time, South Carolina demands both, and Florida isn’t cheap” said Ron Nehring, former chairman of the California Republican Party. “Only well-organized campaigns with lots of resources are going to be able to make it through that gauntlet, and right now that means Perry and Romney.”

While Perry’s money haul has bought him time, he must step up his game as he seeks to re-introduce himself to Republican voters — not to mention donors — who quickly fell in and out of love with him.

Next Tuesday’s Washington Post-Bloomberg News debate in New Hampshire represents a major next step for Perry in that re-introduction process.

A steady (or something better) performance feeds into the idea that this is really a two-person race with Perry helpfully positioned to Romney’s ideological right. A(nother) poor showing quickly makes people forget about Perry’s fundraising totals. Money will, after all, only get you so far in politics.