Donations are rolling in to two of Minnesota's most fiercely contested congressional races.

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann raised a jaw-dropping $4.5 million between July and September, her campaign announced Friday. She started October with $3.5 million in cash on hand against Democratic hotel magnate Jim Graves, whose internal poll numbers show him within two points of the conservative incumbent.

The numbers were smaller, but the stakes were even higher in northern Minnesota, where the contest between freshman U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack and Democratic challenger Rick Nolan has turned into one of the most closely watched races in the nation. Nolan's early campaign report shows he outraised the incumbent.

The Nolan for Congress campaign announced Friday that it raised $484,663 in the third quarter, topping the $471,183 the Cravaack campaign announced the day before. But the Cravaack campaign still held a significant fundraising advantage, ending September with $1.1 million in cash on hand, compared to Nolan's $464,824. In the sprawling Eighth District, money makes all the difference, funding campaign commercials and satellite offices to get the candidates' message to far-flung counties. Both national parties have targeted the Eighth as a winnable district, and millions of dollars have poured in from outside interest groups.

"The momentum continues to build for Rick Nolan," Nolan campaign manager Michael Misterek said in a statement, noting that the campaign had picked up contributions from 2,604 new donors since the August primary. "As we enter the final weeks of the campaign, it's clear that voters are rejecting Chip Cravaack's Tea Party agenda and his unwavering support of the Ryan plan to privatize Medicare and give more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires."

Recent polls show Cravaack and Nolan in a statistical dead heat. The Cravaack campaign shrugged off Nolan's fundraising edge in the third quarter.

"Yesterday, the Cravaack for Congress campaign announced its strongest fundraising quarter to date," said Cravaack campaign adviser Ben Golnik. "This cycle, the campaign has raised nearly $2 million and ended the third quarter with $1.1 million in the bank. Despite millions of dollars of misleading and false attack ads from outside groups, Chip Cravaack will continue to communicate his positive pro-growth message to bring more jobs back to the Eighth District."

Bachmann, meanwhile, may have racked up the single largest fundraising haul of any member of Congress this quarter, including Florida Rep. Allen West, who reported that he raised $4 million over three months. Bachmann's $4.5 million total included more than $1.1 million raised in July that she had previously reported in her pre-primary report to the Federal Election Commission.

By contrast, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is running a statewide re-election campaign, raised just under $800,000 over the same three months, and started October with $4.8 million in the bank. Her Republican challenger, Kurt Bills, has not yet released his third-quarter numbers.

Always a strong fundraiser, Bachmann had raised almost $16 million by the end of July, according to a review by the Center for Responsive Politics, and spent nearly as much. Her brief presidential campaign left her with a nationwide network of conservative donors. According to her campaign, the average donation size in the third quarter was $45.

"I am humbled by the enormous outpouring of grass-roots support for my campaign focused on keeping America the most secure and prosperous nation in the world," Bachmann said in a statement.

Bachmann ended September with $3.5 million in cash on hand.

Her opponent, hotel CEO Graves, has not yet released his fundraising report, which is not due to the Federal Election Committee until Monday. Graves, whose internal poll numbers show him within 2 percentage points of Bachmann in the redistricted Sixth, had raised more than half a million dollars as of late July.

"Rep. Bachmann's fundraising figures are the direct result of her misguided priorities," campaign manager Adam Graves said. "She's spent her time fundraising out of state, catering to special interests and promoting her celebrity -- all at the expense of Minnesota families."

As of late July, the Sixth District was the second-most expensive House race in the nation. Only House Speaker John Boehner had raised more money.

Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049