BOSTON – Mitt Romney blew away the top-ranked Republican presidential candidates in fundraising during the first three months of the year, reporting he had raised an astonishing $23 million. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, favored in the polls, trailed far behind.
The former Massachusetts governor’s first-quarter tally put him on a financial par with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, of New York, the leading Democratic candidate. On Sunday, she reported raising $26 million.
“People are having a positive reaction to (Romney) and are willing to open up a vein for him,” said David King, a professor at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Former New York Mayor Giuliani, who has amassed a sizable lead in national popularity polls of GOP candidates, reported raising $15 million this quarter – more than McCain, but still considerably behind Romney.
McCain’s $12.5 million appeared to be another sign the Arizona senator’s campaign is flagging. “For McCain, it looks like he’s made campaign finance reform work,” King said. “Everyone knew he didn’t like the role of money in politics, but one would have hoped he would have liked the role of money in his own campaign. He’s now coming to this race a day late and $12 million short.”
One other GOP contender, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a favorite of social conservatives, reported raising more than $1.9 million, including a $575,000 transfer from his Senate campaign account.
The disparity had the potential to winnow the field and trigger a reshuffling among the top tier of candidates. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, had previously trailed not only Giuliani and McCain, but also former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson in some national popularity polls of Republican voters. Thompson has yet to declare his candidacy.
Romney worked assiduously to alter the financial lineup, scheduling more than 20 events during the 31 days of March. Along the way, he tapped extensive contacts from his work as a venture capitalist, past chairman of the Republican Governors Association and longtime involvement in the Mormon church.
Giuliani, meanwhile, reported raising nearly $17 million since forming his presidential exploratory committee in November. He also had $11 million cash on hand as of Saturday, the end of the first quarter, according to his aides.
McCain tried to lower expectations last week, saying he didn’t like to raise money, had gotten off to a late start and was “going to pay a price for it.”
Republicans in Washington have privately said that McCain’s rate of spending has been alarming, even as Giuliani has opened a wide lead in national popularity polls.
While McCain acknowledged he “hoped to do better,” his campaign manager, Terry Nelson, said in a statement: “Fundraising in the first quarter is no more important than fundraising throughout the entire primary election campaign.”
Among the other GOP hopefuls, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee reported raising a little more than $500,000. On the Democratic side, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson pulled in $6.3 million.
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., had not released a total as of Monday afternoon, touching off speculation about a significant figure.