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Mitt Romney and the Republican Party have begun a late push to raise tens of millions of dollars in the closing weeks of the election, cash that will finance a last-minute barrage of advertising that Romney’s aides believe is critical to beating President Barack Obama.

In an email to top donors and fundraisers on Monday afternoon, Romney’s campaign said that it had raised $170 million in September, almost as much as the near-record $181 million raised by Obama, but the campaign added that it needed to bring in even more money in October to capitalize on Romney’s surge in polls in swing states like Florida and Ohio.

The announcement opened a three-day retreat for donors at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where the campaign is seeking to tap into a burst of enthusiasm among formerly jittery donors — who were energized by Romney’s strong first debate performance — to recruit new donors and persuade old ones to give the maximum allowed by law. Big donors will also spend part of the retreat working the phones in a miniature call-athon intended to wring out as many last-minute dollars as possible.

Romney had considered making a quick appearance at the retreat, but ultimately decided to stay in Boston to prepare for Tuesday night’s debate on Long Island. Quietly, his donors had been sending the message to his finance team: They would love to see Romney, but three weeks from Election Day, they felt his time was probably better spent practicing for his face-off with Obama or hitting the campaign trail.

The Romney campaign’s broad effort will be an experiment in last-minute high-dollar fundraising by a presidential campaign, one made necessary by Romney’s decision to forgo public financing and the threat posed by the millions of small donors supporting Obama, who similarly opted out of public financing.

Those small donors have flooded Obama’s campaign with a steady stream of money with little investment of the president’s time and energy, allowing him to focus more heavily on retail campaigning in recent weeks. While Romney’s fundraising has kept roughly on pace with Obama’s since the beginning of the summer, his dollar totals lean more heavily on large checks to the Republican National Committee, which must pay higher rates for political advertising and is allowed to spend only a limited amount on ads coordinated with Romney’s campaign.