Mitt Romney boards his campaign plane in Bedford, Mass., on his way to the… (Emanuel Dunand / AFP/Getty…)
NEW YORK -- Just three weeks ago it might not have been such a happy gathering for Mitt Romney's 1,000 top donors at the gilded Waldorf Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan.
Back then, the Romney campaign appeared to be falling under its own weight -- facing wall-to-wall coverage of the GOP presidential candidate’s secretly taped remarks at a private fundraiser, sliding poll numbers in key swing states and a candidate struggling to gain control of his message.
But as the smartly suited donors, who are known as stars, stripes, or the Counsel of 100 based on the amount of money they have helped raise for Romney, met here Tuesday to hear from campaign advisors and watch the presidential debate, it was hard to find anyone who projected anything other than an air of optimism about Romney's prospects three weeks from election day.
On Monday, shortly before they met for a gala dinner on the aircraft carrier Intrepid, the Romney campaign revealed that it had brought in $170 million in September -- just shy of the $181 million raised by President Obama -- numbers that surprised even some of Romney's bundlers and aides. It was a silver medal, one joked, but given Obama’s fundraising prowess, no one should be sorry about second place.
INTERACTIVE: Campaign contributions by state
Romney's final donor retreat, a sequel to the gathering in Park City, Utah, over the summer, was something of a last reunion for a group that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for him since his first bid for the presidency in 2008. But Romney's finance team also brought the group together as a call to arms for the final three weeks.
The Romney campaign is on track to raise as much as $850 million by election day, surpassing its goal of bringing in $800 million through the campaign and a joint fundraising committee, as well as money raised by the Republican National Committee for presidential race expenditures.
Additionally, the RNC is spending tens of millions of dollars more to assist the campaign through independent ads and field organizing. When all of its fundraising is included, Romney and the party had already pulled in nearly $839 million by Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission data and the Campaign Finance Institute. The Obama campaign and its affiliated committees had raised $947 million by then.
Though trailing far behind Obama in small donors, about $128 million of the money the Romney campaign has raised since April has been online (about $50 million of that online in the last six weeks, according to a source familiar with the campaign's most recent figures).
In the final three weeks, the campaign plans to spend nearly two-thirds of its remaining money on ads, more than a quarter on voter contact and about 5% on its digital operation, which has grown so large that it occupies the bottom floor of a second building near Romney's Boston headquarters.
INTERACTIVE: Battleground states map
Still, Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick had a final ask for donors Tuesday: to raise $2 million in 45 minutes using their cellphones from the Waldorf (where connectivity issues sent donors out of the ballroom and wandering around the tiled lobbies to get a better signal as they dialed for dollars).
That amount, aides told the group, could buy as many as 2,800 30-second ad spots, or 20 million automated phone calls, or perhaps even a huge last drop of direct mail.
The campaign took aim at select targets on Tuesday: more than 16,000 donors who gave $2,500 during the primaries, but not in the general election. At least not yet.
PHOTOS: Mitt Romney’s past
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