WASHINGTON - If there was one certainty about this year's presidential campaign, it was that President Obama's fundraising juggernaut could not be beat.
But the razor-tightness of the 2012 campaign is now evident not only in the polls, but also in the money race, in which GOP challenger Mitt Romney is rapidly gaining on Obama.
In July, Romney and the Republican National Committee outraised Obama and his Democratic allies $101 million to $75 million -- the third month in a row that the former Massachusetts governor has beaten the Democratic incumbent. In those months, he brought in $79 million more than Obama.
Obama, who amassed a war chest while Romney was duking it out in a tough primary fight earlier in the year, still has raised more: nearly $627 million, compared with the $535 million raised by Romney and his GOP allies, according to data from the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute and new figures released Monday by the two campaigns.
Since the 2012 race began, Obama campaign officials have privately predicted that he would collect more than the $745 million he raised in his record-setting 2008 campaign, a goal that still appears well within reach. Indeed, at the current pace, his re-election effort will bring in around $850 million.
But it now appears that Romney will also be flush with cash in the fall -- a dramatically different scenario than Obama faced four years ago, when he vastly outspent then-GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Unlike Obama, McCain accepted public financing, which capped how much he could spend.
The potential impact of the escalating money race is unclear. With voters already deluged by political ads, additional money pumped into TV spots could see diminishing returns. But a financial advantage could allow Romney to expand his on-the-ground campaign into new states.
Top Obama fundraisers said the campaign is hitting its fundraising goals and will have enough to execute its strategy. They attribute Romney's recent fundraising advantage to the fact that he was able to begin raising large donations jointly with the Republican National Committee only in the spring, once he became the putative nominee.
"The Republicans have woken up and said, 'OK, the campaign has started,'" said Ken Solomon, chief executive of the Tennis Channel and co-chairman of Obama's Southern California fundraising effort.
"Nobody's pressing the panic button around here," he added.
Still, Obama fundraisers acknowledged that the latest figures show Romney is riding a powerful wave of financial support.
Romney's campaign sought to stress the small donors who are backing him, saying that 600,627 contributions received in July were under $250, totaling $25.7 million.
"Once again we see that for many people, this is more than a campaign, it is a cause," Romney Victory National Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said in a joint statement.
Complicating the equation for Obama are large sums being spent on "issue ads" by GOP-allied groups, such as Crossroads GPS and Americans for Prosperity. A pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, is stepping up its activity, but it is still likely to be outgunned by Restore Our Future, a rival super PAC run by former Romney aides.