New campaign finance reports offer the first detailed look at the haves and the have-nots among the Republican presidential candidates, with just over a year left in the race for the White House.
In the reports released Saturday, two of the top Republican contenders, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, brought in more than $30 million combined. Meanwhile, businessman Herman Cain, who surged into the top tier of candidates in recent polls, raised significantly less.
The financial reports show how flush some Republican candidates are with cash — and how nearly broke others are — as campaigns increasingly need money to pay for TV ads and staff in the final weeks before contests in key primary and caucus states. Reports on two of the biggest money-raisers so far — Romney and President Obama — reveal millions in contributions from party devotees and small donors alike.
Romney reported roughly $14 million in contributions during the July-September period and had nearly $15 million on hand. Perry, who briefly surged to the top of the Republican presidential field this summer, has roughly the same in the bank, having raised about $17 million during the first few weeks of his campaign.
The virtual tie between Romney and Perry for cash on hand means the two have similar amounts to spend on ads and travel in the final weeks heading into the nominating contests in the key early primary and caucus states.
Perry is expected to dig into his campaign funds to buy TV ads to Romney's record on health care, abortion, gay rights and job creation. His campaign suggested this week that the moment for a barrage of attack ads was near.
Romney, the former governor of a predominantly Democratic state, has been attacked for his shifting positions on social issues that are held dear by conservative voters who dominate the Republican primary season.
Still, Perry and Romney are hardly bulletproof financially. Unlike Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who got 46 percent of his money in contributions of $200 or less, Perry and Romney both rely heavily on donors who gave the maximum amount and can't give any more.
That means Romney and Perry could run into problems if the primary season stretches out, says Michael Malbin, director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, which analyzes trends in political money.
"One or the other of them would be very well served by developing an organizational network that goes beyond mere money," he said. "We'll see whether they end up doing that or whether they can do that."
Some Struggle To Compete
Other Republican candidates are saddled with debt, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.
The reports didn't capture the tens of millions raised by new, outside groups known as super political action committees, which can collect unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. Perry and Romney have at least one superPAC each working to boost their candidacies, and another group is backing Obama's re-election bid.
Rep. Paul, a favorite among libertarians, collected $8.2 million, spent $7.5 million during the period and has no debt. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum reported raising more than $700,000 during the quarter, spent nearly $750,000 and owes about $70,000.
But some in the Republican field owe much more, particularly as their campaigns struggle to compete with big money that fuels increasingly expensive elections.
Gingrich owes the most among all candidates who have filed so far, with more than $1.1 million in debts for expenses like office supplies, direct mail and outside experts — including $5,250 for a "Hispanic outreach consultant" and $724 for a "social media consultation." His campaign raised about $793,000 this period, about a third of which came from small donors.
Bachmann, a favorite among social conservatives and the low-tax, small-government Tea Party movement, reported nearly $550,000 in debt after raising $3.9 million. Her expenses included more than $130,000 spent on chartered flights with Moby Dick Airways of Virginia. She also owes former campaign chair Ed Rollins about $30,000.
While businessman Cain's report said he raised $2.8 million and has $1.3 million in the bank, the former Godfather's Pizza CEO loaned his campaign $675,000, most of it borrowed in the spring.
Cain is third from the bottom in the money race. But he said Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press that his contributions are beginning to catch up with his poll numbers.
Talking to Fox News' Neil Cavuto on Friday, Cain was more specific.
"This is what people are missing, now," Cain said. "Ever since Oct. 1, up until today, Oct. 14, our fundraising and contributions have literally quadrupled."
But even if that continues, it would bring Cain only $11 million or so by the end of December. That might not be enough to survive the compressed primary schedule that Republicans are setting up at the expense of slow-starting candidates.
"It's going to be a major issue, particularly for Herman Cain," said Malbin of the Campaign Finance Institute.
A low-budget candidate can score early on, as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee did in Iowa four years ago. But Malbin says a compressed primary schedule leaves no time to capitalize on the victory.
"If it was just Iowa and New Hampshire, you could get by with less," he said. "If it starts including Florida and Nevada, and who knows what else might happen, that just ratchets up the amount of dollars you'll need."
Candidates with much more cash on hand have more money for advertising and overhead costs. But it also means more flexibility: Romney spent about $240,000 in private jets, although he has tweeted in the past about flying commercial on low-cost air carrier Southwest Airlines.
The Obama War Chest
Reports showed that Obama raised more than $70 million between his campaign and the Democratic Party. At the same time, Republican candidates raised a combined $52.6 million, more than the $42 million Obama brought in through his campaign alone.
The Obama fundraising effort is easily outstripping any of his prospective Republican rivals. The Obama campaign's quarterly filing shows that it's holding spending down, and as of Sept. 30, it had $61.4 million cash on hand.
Obama has been faced with declining poll numbers and a weakened economy during the summer, prompting the president to recently call himself the "underdog" in the race. However, his formidable re-election war chest will help him combat any Republican challenger. His campaign reports raising $42 million, which includes $20 million from small donors – those who gave $200 or less. Obama can save most of the money raised for next year because he does not face a primary opponent.
When he does face the GOP nominee, however, the financial edge may not remain as clear, NPR's Mara Liasson tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.
"When there is a Republican nominee, there's going to be a tremendous amount of money from Wall Street, which appears to have turned against Obama and because of the new Citizens United ruling where rich individuals and corporations can give unlimited undisclosed donations to both side," she says. "I think this will be a very competitive election money-wise, and he will not have an advantage."
NPR's Peter Overby contributed to the report, which contains material from The Associated Press