WASHINGTON (USA TODAY) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the Republican Party and a constellation of outside GOP groups entered the final campaign stretch with a nearly $46 million cash advantage for the last-minute advertising and get-out-the-vote push in this nail-biter election, a USA TODAY analysis of new campaign reports shows.
The candidates and political parties collectively have raised close to $2 billion through the end of September, giving Romney and President Obama ample cash to devote legions of staffers to swing states. Both men and their allies readied a fresh round of advertising over the weekend ahead of Monday's third and final debate in Boca Raton, Fla.
A Romney ad released Sunday describes him as a bipartisan problem-solver during his tenure as Massachusetts governor. A new Obama ad in Ohio, a manufacturing state with 18 Electoral College votes, faults Romney for not supporting the federal auto bailout.
"There's certainly no shortage of cash to do the things they need to do between now and Election Day," said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political scientist. "As helpful as money can be in an election, it can also have the potential to backfire given how concentrated it is in battleground states.
"In places that have been targeted for months, there are some people who just can't wait for this election to be over," he said.
The campaign-finance reports filed over the weekend show Obama's camp spent heavily to deploy staffers throughout the country and to blister Romney on the airwaves in September. The president's campaign employed 974 staffers to Romney's 434 last month and outspent Romney by more than 2-to-1 on advertising, mailings and postage.
Filings show Romney rewarded his staffers with bonuses, handing out more than $217,000 to 10 top aides last month. The biggest check, $37,500, went to political director Rich Beeson. The payments marked the second round of bonuses to staffers for helping Romney secure his party's nomination. More than $207,000 in bonuses had been paid out in August.
The Republican has ramped up his advertising spending in recent weeks, aided by a fundraising surge after his strong performance in the first of three presidential debates on Oct. 3. Romney raised more than $27 million online during the first two weeks of October - more than the campaign had previously collected on the Internet in a single previous month, campaign aides said this weekend.
"Our campaign has the resources and organization to win," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
Obama campaign officials said the president scored the most lucrative day of campaign fundraising of his political career Oct. 17, a day after the candidates' second, feisty debate at Hofstra University. The campaign said it has amassed more than 4 million donors.
Campaign spokesman Adam Fetcher said the money is being plowed into the ground game, which he said is leading to large numbers of Democrats turning out to vote early in swing states. In a bid to promote early voting, Obama plans a whirlwind campaign tour, starting Wednesday that will take him to six battleground states in 48 hours and end with him casting an early ballot in Chicago.
Among Republican groups, the Republican National Committee started this month with the biggest pile of available cash, stockpiling $82.6 million to spend in the final weeks.
Relying on the party's money poses a potential risk to Romney, however, because there are limits on how closely candidates and parties can coordinate their activities. Only the candidate is entitled to the lowest rate on television ads. As a result, any money spent by political parties and outside groups on Romney's behalf pays for fewer ads.
While Democrats ended the month with less available cash, two-thirds of that money remained in Obama's direct control.
Reports released over the weekend also show independent super PACs aiding Obama and Romney had among their strongest fundraising months in September, as some of America's wealthiest individuals wrote seven-figure checks to influence the presidential race.
The pro-Obama Priorities USA Action led the way, taking in nearly $15.3 million - its best monthly haul, after struggling to compete with Republican groups earlier in the campaign. Donors writing $1 million checks to the group last month included director Steven Spielberg, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, the United Auto Workers union, and David Boies, the Democratic super lawyer who represented Al Gore in the Supreme Court case that decided the 2000 presidential election.
The last-minute generosity of Democratic donors helped Priorities best the pro-Romney super PAC, Restore Our Future. That group took in $14.8 million last month, boosted by checks from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who gave $2 million and $1 million from Houston Texans owner Bob McNair. Records show 63 corporations donated a total of $4 million to the group in September.
American Crossroads, a major Republican super PAC backed by former Bush administration strategist Karl Rove, raised $11.7 million, its strongest month of the year. Top donors include Dallas billionaire industrialist Harold Simmons, who gave $2.5 million. In all, Simmons and his wife have donated nearly $22 million to Republican super PACs in this election. Seventy percent of the money has flowed to Crossroads.
Details on October fundraising comes Thursday when candidates, the political parties and super PACs file their final reports before the election.