On Wednesday, Rick Perry reminded the political world why he still remains Mitt Romney’s biggest threat for the Republican presidential nomination. All it took was $17 million.
The Texas governor’s first fundraising report didn’t greatly exceed expectations, but his haul—which nearly matched what Romney brought in during his first quarter after entering the race—demonstrated he remains a more formidable conservative challenger than Rep. Michele Bachmann and the now-surging Herman Cain. Like Perry, they’ve been the conservative flavor of the month—in Cain’s case, twice. But Perry’s burgeoning war chest shows he has staying power.
“I think this reestablishes his first-tier status,” Republican strategist Rich Galen said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that. It’s a lot of money.”
Perry exceeded Romney’s third-quarter haul, but fell $1 million short of what Romney raised during his first fundraising period. Perry’s campaign has said that he ended the quarter with $15 million in the bank, with most of the donations being earmarked for use in the primary.
Perry doesn’t have momentum right now, but has a profile that could make voters reconsider supporting him—he’s executive of a large state and sports a largely conservative record—that can attract Republicans back to his cause. Voters, most of whom aren’t yet paying close attention to the race, can forgive the stumbles in September, GOP consultant Brad Todd said.
“I think the Republican primary electorate and donor universe especially is very hungry for a candidate with executive experience, a conservative record, and the ability to beat President Obama,” Todd said. “Those are the three things to look for, and I think Mitt Romney and Rick Perry fit that bill.”
In the run-up to the quarterly deadline, Perry aides and allies scrambled to lower expectations, pointing out he had less time to raise money while building a national fundraising apparatus on the fly. They said they would be surprised if he matched Romney, who had been the clear fundraising front-runner—the former Massachusetts governor has closer Wall Street connections and could rely on donors from his last presidential run.
There are still plenty of questions to ask when Perry’s official report comes out: Did donations tail off after the debates? Did most of the money come from Texas, or was he able to attract a wider array of contributors? And further down the line, can his campaign attract any of the money men that were poised to support New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before he left the race, some of whom have indicated a preference for Romney already?
Galen suggested that if nothing else, Perry’s roots to the deep-pocketed state of Texas will help fill his campaign coffers for the long haul.
“Either he’s going to be the nominee, or he’s going to be governor of Texas for next three years,” he said. “In either event, if I were a businessman in Texas, I would want my name on that list.”