GOP Money Gap Widens

Presidential candidates filed their latest campaign finance reports this weekend, showing a widening money gap in the Republican primary race. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry led the field.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host: New reports filed at the Federal Election Commission show that President Obama has banked more than $61 million for the 2012 campaign. On the Republican side, two clear front-runners are emerging in the money primary, but it's not the same two candidates who currently lead in the polls. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY: Measured by how much they raised in the third quarter and by how much they have saved for the fight ahead, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry are out front. But when you look at the latest polls, it's businessman Herman Cain and Romney at the top, not Romney and Perry. Cain is well back in the money race, third from the bottom, in fact. He said this morning 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, he was more specific.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW)

HERMAN CAIN: This is what people are missing now. Ever since October 1st up until today, October 14th, our fundraising and contributions have literally quadrupled.

OVERBY: But even if that continues, it would bring Cain only $11 million or so by the end of December. By comparison, Perry's take for July through September was $17 million, and Romney raised 14 million. Each of them had about $15 million cash on hand as of September 30th. Combine those cash reserves with a primary schedule with at least four states squeezing primary contests into the month of January and it works against underfunded candidates.

MICHAEL MALBIN: It's going to be a major issue particularly for Herman Cain.

OVERBY: Michael Malbin is director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, which analyzes trends in political money. A low-budget candidate can score early on, as Mike Huckabee did in Iowa four years ago. But Malbin says a compressed primary schedule leaves no time to capitalize on the victory.

MALBIN: If it was just Iowa and New Hampshire, you could get by with less. If it starts including Florida and Nevada, who knows what else will happen? That just ratchets up the amount of dollars you'll need.

OVERBY: Still, Perry and Romney are hardly bulletproof financially. Unlike Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who got 46% of his money in contributions of $200 or less, Perry and Romney both rely heavily on donors who give the maximum amount of $2,500 and can't give them any more. Malbin says that means Romney and Perry could run into problems if the primary season stretches out.

MALBIN: One or the other of them would be very well served by developing an organizational network that goes beyond mere money. We'll see whether they end up doing that or whether they can do that.

OVERBY: One other thing about the primary schedule, the next disclosures by the presidential campaigns probably won't come until the end of January. So we may know who the nominee is before we know whose money helped that candidate win the race. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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