RANDLEMAN, N.C. (AP) -- She had never before given more than a few hundred dollars to a politician. But two weeks ago, Jacquelyn Monroe, a single mother who plays the piano for a living, decided to raise $100,000 for Ben Carson.
Inspired by a brief meeting at the hotel where she works, the 45-year-old Georgia woman joined an army of middle-class Americans fueling the fundraising juggernaut that is Carson's Republican presidential campaign.
"It's not something that I would normally set out to do," said Monroe, who added she was moved by Carson's authenticity and Christian faith and coaxed into collecting money from friends and business associates by his ambitious campaign staff. "$100,000-plus is a big deal for me."
While the GOP establishment remains deeply skeptical of the retired neurosurgeon's chances in 2016, even the most seasoned political operatives concede that Carson's ability to raise money, if not his rising poll numbers, exceeds their expectations and ensures him a prominent place in the packed Republican contest four months before voting begins.
"Sooner or later, they'll have to realize there's a new reality or they'll pay the price. The outsiders are not going away."
Barry Bennett, Caron's campaign manager, on the GOP establishment
Carson's team confirmed Wednesday he has raised more than $20 million in the three-month period that ended Wednesday and $31 million overall since he entered the race in May - much of it from small-dollar donors or newcomers to presidential politics.
Senior campaign staffers had a special cake made Wednesday to celebrate their fundraising haul, which was more money than what was raised by the GOP's entire White House field combined over the same period four years ago.
See Ben Carson on the campaign trail:
Ben Carson on the campaign trail
Carson raising millions to become '16 fundraising juggernaut
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson gestures while speaking during a town hall at Abundant Life Ministries in Jefferson, Iowa, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
MT. AYR, IA - JANUARY 22 : Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is introduced during his 'Trust in God Townhall' campaign stop January 22, 2016 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa. Carson, who is seeking the nomination from the Republican Party is on the presidential campaign trail across Iowa ahead of the Iowa Caucus taking place February 1. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson walks through the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa, Iowa, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, after holding a town hall. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson smiles during an interview with The Associated Press in his home in Upperco, Md., Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a campaign event at Cobb Energy Center Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Republican presidential candidate, Dr. Ben Carson speaks during a town hall meeting at Winthrop University on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015, in Rock Hill, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a rally Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a Liberty University Convocation in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. As retired neurosurgeon Carson has risen in the polls, media reports have revisited his accounts of acts of violence as a child, a key part of the redemption story he discusses on the campaign trail. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PALM BEACH GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks to the media before speaking at a gala for the Black Republican Caucus of South Florida at PGA National Resort on November 6, 2015 in Palm Beach, Florida. Carson has come under media scrutiny for possibly exaggerating his background and other statements he has made recently. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson greets well-wishers during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 16: Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson (L) eats a piece of pizza while touring the Iowa State Fair on August 16, 2015 in Des Moines, Iowa. Presidential candidates are addressing attendees at the Iowa State Fair on the Des Moines Register Presidential Soapbox stage and touring the fairgrounds. The State Fair runs through August 23. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a campaign stop, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015, in Lakewood, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson greets audience members after speaking at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Seven in 10 Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters say Donald Trump could win the November 2016 election. That compares to 6 in 10 who say the same for retired neurosurgeon Carson, who, like Trump, has tapped into the powerful wave of anti-establishment anger defining the early phases of the 2016 contest. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
LAKEWOOD, CO - OCTOBER 29: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks during a news conference before a campaign event at Colorado Christian University on October 29, 2015 in Lakewood, Colorado. Ben Carson was back on the campaign trail a day after the third republican debate held at the University of Colorado Boulder. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks outside the Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity at Iowa State University during a campaign stop, Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, left, laughs as he wife, Candy Carson, waves to the crowd after saying a few words to the crowd supporting her husband in front of supporters Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson greets audience members following a town hall meeting, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in Ankeny, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks at a luncheon at the National Press Club in Washington, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. Carson is promoting a book he has co-authored with his wife Candy Carson entitled 'A More Perfect Union: What We the People Can Do to Reclaim Our Constitutional Liberties.' (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25: Scenes around the the Value Voters Summit on September 25, 2015 in Washington DC. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson takes the stage at the event. Dr Carson speaks to the media after the speach. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Attendees wait for Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, not pictured, to arrive during a campaign stop at the birthplace of the Michigan Republican Party in Jackson, Michigan, U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. Carson, the third candidate in the Republican race to have never held elected office, saw his numbers drop following the debate last week. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a presidential forum sponsored by Heritage Action at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)
Republican Presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson during a speech to the Commonwealth Club public affairs forum Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a rally in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson is interviewed in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson stands for a photo with a fairgoer at the Iowa State Fair Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, listens as he attends a service at Maple Street Missionary Baptist Church in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. Carson will be speaking at the Iowa State Fair, which is expected to host 18 presidential candidates and runs until Aug. 23. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson speaks to hundreds of supporters at the Inaugural Basque Fry at Corley Ranch in Gardnerville, Nev. on Saturday, Aug. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Lance Iversen)
CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 06: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson participates in the first prime-time presidential debate hosted by FOX News and Facebook at the Quicken Loans Arena August 6, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The top-ten GOP candidates were selected to participate in the debate based on their rank in an average of the five most recent national political polls. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, speaks at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, right, speaks with pollster Frank Luntz at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, Saturday, July 18, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Ben Carson, 2016 Republican presidential candidate, eats a slice of pizza as he tours the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Aug. 16, 2015. In a Sunday interview with Fox News, Carson doubled down on his assertion that a speech given by President Barack Obama intended to sell the American public on his nuclear deal with Iran contained 'coded innuendos employing standard anti-Semitic themes.' Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at the National Sheriffsâ Association presidential forum, Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson is greeted by supporters during a fundraiser for U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Saturday, June 6, 2015, in Boone, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Rand Paul, left, talks with Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson during the Iowa Republican Party's Lincoln Dinner, Saturday, May 16, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson speaks at Manchester Community College, Sunday, May 10, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks in town hall meeting in Baltimore Md., Thursday May 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Ben Carson announces his candidacy for president during an official announcement in Detroit, Monday, May 4, 2015. Carson, 63, a retired neurosurgeon, begins the Republican primary as an underdog in a campaign expected to feature several seasoned politicians. (Photo/Paul Sancya)
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Flush with cash, Carson campaign manager Barry Bennett said he has initiated plans to begin reserving television ad space across the South for primary contests scheduled for early March.
"Sooner or later, they'll have to realize there's a new reality or they'll pay the price," Bennett said in a message aimed at the Republican establishment. "The outsiders are not going away."
But for all the fundraising success, Carson's campaign was burning through donor money faster than almost anyone else in the race through June. Bennett estimated the campaign had at least $12 million in the bank as of Wednesday.
He declined to say how much money the campaign has spent on fundraising, details that will be included in a financial report due to federal regulators in two weeks.
It's unclear if any of Carson's 2016 Republican rivals will hit the $20 million mark for the quarter, which ended Wednesday. The two leading Democrat have: Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign said late Wednesday it had raised $28 million, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' team said it had pulled in roughly $26 million.
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Carson's ability to raise money, if not his rising poll numbers, exceeds expectations and ensures him a prominent place in the packed Republican race.
Carson, who has never held elected office, has relied largely on creative techniques designed by his team to capitalize on tremendous interest from disaffected voters drawn to his underdog bid.
He quickly raised $250,000 by listing the names of his supporters' children on the side of his campaign bus for $50 each. The campaign will soon make available the other side of the bus. An email solicitation sent to Carson's ballooning email list on his Sept. 18 birthday netted $2 million. And Monroe was coaxed into becoming a Carson "bundler" when the candidate's son, a former cellist, promised to join one of her musical performances if she generated $100,000 for his dad.
Click through to read the 10 Ben Carson facts you should know:
Ben Carson facts you should know
Carson raising millions to become '16 fundraising juggernaut
1. He is a weekly opinion columnist for The Washington Times.
(Photo by: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
2. He is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and his father was a minister.
(Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
3. He was raised in Detroit by a single mother, alongside is older brother Curtis.
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
4. He is the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States.
(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)
5. He was the first doctor to successfully separate occipital craniopagus twins in 1987.
(AP Photo/Fred Kraft)
6. He has written six bestselling books, all by an international Christian media and publishing company.
(AP Photo/Brian Witte)
7. He has criticized “political correctness” because he says it goes against freedom of expression, and became known for this idea when he was the keynote speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013.
(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)
8. There’s a Lifetime movie made about his life, with Cuba Gooding Jr. in the starring role.
(Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)
9. Before November of 2014 Carson was not a member of any political party.
(AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
10. He and his wife started a scholarship fund called "Carson scholars fund" in 1994 which has so far awarded 6,700 scholarships to kids for "academic excellence and humanitarian qualities."
(Photo by Louis Myrie/WireImage via Getty)
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"We're creating bundlers out of piano players," said Carson's national finance chairman, Dean Parker, a former technology executive and newcomer to national politics himself. "We've convinced the average person to say, `I can raise money to support Ben Carson.' "
Carson's fortunes surged even after he said recently he would not support a Muslim president, drawing condemnation from Republicans and Democrats. His campaign raised roughly $700,000 in the 36 hours after he made the comment, Bennett said.
Carson will continue to embrace the issue. On Thursday, Bennett said, Carson would call for the revocation of the non-profit tax status of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim advocacy group, whose leader called on Carson to leave the race last month.
"The Judeo-Christian values upon which America was built allowed us to become the greatest force for good on the planet," Carson says in a fundraising appeal distributed this week that repeats his criticism of a prospective Muslim president who supports Sharia law.
Donors interviewed in recent days explained their motivation in remarkably similar terms. They cite Carson's authenticity, outsider status and Christian faith as major draws.
People were almost literally throwing money at him this week as his campaign bus greeted a handful of supporters on the side of the road after a stop in North Carolina. Dean Barney, a 63-year-old truck driver, waved two $20 bills at Carson as he walked off the bus.
"He sounds like a man who believes we need to get back to our Christian heritage," said Barney, who lives in Asheboro, North Carolina, when asked what inspired him to donate. "I like his humility. And he's no politician."
Meanwhile, Monroe says she just got her fundraising website up and running a few days ago. She concedes the $100,000 goal is ambitious, but she wants to aim big.
"Politics is not necessarily my forte," said Monroe, a single mother who isn't registered with any political party. "But you see someone like Ben Carson come along, you want to see someone like that leading."
Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Exeter, New Hampshire and Julie Bykowicz in Washington contributed to this report.
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