In a surprising turn, the biggest fundraiser in the Republican primary race turns out to be Mitt Romney. Earlier today, the Romney campaign announced that they had raised $23 million in the first quarter of 2007, far outstripping frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, who didn't get his money machine into full swing until last month:
Republican Mitt Romney reported raising $23 million for his presidential campaign during the first three months of the year, shaking up the GOP field and rivaling the total reported a day earlier by Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Meanwhile, the Republican front-runner in the polls, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said his donations totaled $15 million — including more than $10 million raised during March alone.
Both Republican numbers blew away past party presidential fundraising standards, while Romney's figure put the former Massachusetts governor in competition with Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. The New York senator on Sunday reported raising $26 million between Jan. 1 and March 31.
Undoubtedly, Romney needed this kind of showing. In the latest Gallup poll, he had slid backwards into the second tier, dropping from 8% to 3% and into a tie with Sam Brownback. Despite a positive appearance at CPAC, Romney was in danger of losing steam and credibility. He had to show some sign that he could compete on the national stage, and Romney delivered it in his fundraising ability.
Meanwhile, Giuliani didn't do badly. He came up short of Romney's numbers, but $17 million looks pretty good. Even though Giuliani has had his exploration committee running for several months, it seemed as though Team Rudy really didn't get started until about halfway through 2007 Q1. A $10 million March indicates that Rudy's campaign can also compete.
This makes John McCain the odd man out. He raised $12.5 million in Q1, perhaps a bit higher than expected, given McCain's efforts to lower expectations last week. That puts him $5 million behind Rudy and almost lapped by Mitt. For a man who believed that he would lead the pack in the early going, that will not bolster confidence. It's not disastrous either, but if McCain can't do better than a distant third in Q2, he's going to start losing credibility.
What's encouraging is that both Rudy and Mitt look very competitive against Hillary. For Rudy, that has been a given. For Mitt, it might be a revelation -- and it might be enough to propel his numbers sharply upward.