WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders sharply narrowed his fundraising gap with Hillary Clinton over the last three months, posing a surprising financial challenge to her bid for their party’s presidential nomination.

Sanders rode a wave of small-dollar online contributions to collect roughly $26 million during the July-to-September fundraising quarter, his campaign announced Thursday morning. More than $2 million of that sum flowed to the Vermont senator via the Internet on Wednesday, the final day of the quarter.

Clinton’s campaign said it had raised $28 million in the last three months, much of it collected at dozens of fundraising events where donors typically contributed paid as much $2,700, the maximum amount an individual could contribute to her primary campaign. This week alone, Clinton headlined six donor events in California, North Carolina and New York.

Sanders has hosted just seven such events since he entered the race at the end of April, his aides say. Instead, he has relied on smaller donations, collecting more than 1.3 million online contributions, exceeding a pace set by President Obama in his 2008 bid.

Sanders’ fundraising haul is a striking illustration of the potential threat his insurgent campaign could pose to Clinton, a former first lady and secretary of State who can draw on an extensive fundraising network built over four decades in public life. It comes as Sanders has surged in early state polling and as Vice President Biden weighs entering the primary contest.

Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic strategist who is advising Sanders, said the campaign’s reliance on smaller donors who can be tapped repeatedly for online contributions has given Sanders “a mechanism to compete on a national basis against a formidable candidate.”

As the fundraising deadline approached Wednesday, Sanders implored supporters via Twitter to “send an unmistakable message about the size and strength of our campaign.”

Sanders’ aides initially announced a $24 million haul late Wednesday, but his backers appeared to be spurred on by news they were just a few million dollars short of Clinton’s haul. Sanders’ spokesman Michael Briggs said the campaign received more than $171,000 between 11 p.m. and midnight.

In an interview Thursday morning with the On Point call-in radio show, Sanders said he’s gaining ground because “the American people are sick and tired of seeing the middle class continue to decline.”

Clinton’s total represents a sharp drop from the record $47.5 million she raised during the previous three months, reflecting a traditional summer slowdown.

Aides said the roughly $75 million she has raised this year puts her on track to reach a long-standing goal of raising $100 million by year’s end. Her third-quarter haul, they note, was the largest for a non-incumbent in the year before a presidential contest.

“Thanks to our supporters, we are able to meet our goals and build an organization that can mobilize millions of voters to ensure Hillary Clinton is their fighter in the White House,” campaign manager Robby Mook said in a statement.

In all, Sanders has raised about $41 million this year.

Clinton appears to have the edge in cash available for the primary fight ahead. Although final figures were not yet tallied, Clinton aide Josh Schwerin tweeted on Thursday that the campaign had more than than $32 million in cash reserves. Sanders has about $26 million in available cash, Devine said.

Only one Republican contender has released his fundraising totals so far. Retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, another insurgent rising in the polls, said he raised $20 million during the third quarter, nearly double the amount he collected during the previous three months.

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