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Romney tops GOP in race for funds

Mitt Romney yesterday reported raising nearly $21 million in the first quarter of 2007 for the Republican presidential primary, a formidable sum that makes him the top GOP fund-raiser so far and rivals the amount that Senator Hillary Clinton has netted this year for her Democratic primary battle.

Romney, who has built a broad network of supporters, friends, and former business contacts, had been expected to put up a strong first-quarter showing, but his dominance over fellow Republicans -- and the possibility that he could match or even beat Clinton in fund-raising for the primaries -- immediately branded him a rising force in the 2008 presidential race. "I think it is remarkable," said Stuart Rothenberg, who publishes the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report. "It's surely getting everyone's attention."

In unveiling his figures yesterday, Romney overshadowed similar announcements from his top rivals for the Republican nomination. Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani reported raising nearly $14 million in primary funds, while Arizona Senator John McCain, who had warned he would miss first-quarter expectations, reported raising $12.5 million, nearly all of it for the primary.

Candidates have until April 15 to report first-quarter financing details to the Federal Election Commission, but most candidates released unofficial revenue figures Sunday and yesterday.

Some candidates, like Clinton, released totals that lumped together funds raised for the primary along with money they raised for the general election to follow. Others, including Romney, have only raised money for the primary. Donors are allowed to give up to $2,300 to candidates for the primary and another $2,300 for the general election.

Many GOP officials and political analysts expected Romney to out-pace McCain and Giuliani, but some say the bigger accomplishment is coming within striking distance of Clinton, a longtime national figure and prodigious fund-raiser. In disclosing Sunday that she had raised $26 million in the first quarter, Clinton's campaign did not reveal what proportion was raised specifically for the primary and how much was for the general election. But if the general election donations totaled more than $5.5 million, that would mean she raised less than Romney's $20.6 million for the primary -- and that would make Romney the top primary fund-raiser from any party so far.

"Governor Romney is winning over voters and supporters because he is the candidate with the best ideas and the most detailed vision for leading the country into the future," Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said in a statement.

Romney's campaign yesterday also reported that he had loaned his campaign about $2.4 million in the early days of his presidential campaign. Romney, according to Madden, had loaned himself the money before telling reporters at a $6.5 million daylong fund-raising blitz Jan. 8 that it would be "akin to a nightmare" if he were forced to give his own money to his White House bid.

One senior Romney campaign aide emphasized yesterday that the $2.4 million was a loan, not a gift. "A loan's a loan," the aide said. "That was just to start up."

One significant unknown about Romney's finances at this point is his so-called burn rate, or the pace at which he is spending what he has raised. Because Romney has built large organizations and already aired radio and TV ads in at least three early primary states, experts anticipate that his full first-quarter campaign finance report -- which is due at the Federal Election Commission by April 15 -- will show that he is running an expensive campaign.

Jon Fleischman, a vice chairman of the California Republican Party, said Romney has proven definitively that he's a top-tier fund-raiser. Now, Fleischman said, he needs to show that he knows how to spend it in order to catch up to Giuliani and McCain in the polls. Romney trails far behind both rivals in many opinion polls.

"Romney has shown that he knows how to raise the money," said Fleischman, who publishes FlashReport.org, a website devoted to California politics. "The question is, does he know how to spend the money effectively? And that is going to be the story of the next few months."

"Mitt Romney is still relatively obscure," Fleischman added. "He's got a big challenge ahead of him."

Romney's strong first-quarter financial showing is sure to help by fueling a wave of positive mentions in the media, from commentators, and among bloggers about his viability as a candidate.

Leading candidates of both parties are raising millions more for this presidential campaign than candidates have raised in the past, in part because an accelerated 2008 primary calendar -- in which states such as California and Florida have moved up their votes to early in the year -- is forcing them to spend money across the country sooner than ever.

In the first quarter of 2003, all candidates together raised nearly $31 million. For the entire 2004 election campaign, the candidates raised more than $600 million from individual contributors.

In past races, McCain's first-quarter tally of $12.5 million would have been deemed impressive. Instead, his campaign manager, Terry Nelson, was forced to acknowledge yesterday that the campaign didn't meet expectations. "Although we are pleased with the organization we've built and polls show us strongly positioned in key primary states, we had hoped to do better in first-quarter fund-raising," Nelson said in a statement. "We are already in the process of taking the necessary steps to ensure fund-raising success moving forward."

Giuliani's campaign, meanwhile, sought to cast its figures as evidence of momentum. The campaign said Giuliani had raised $10 million in March and has more than $11 million cash on hand, the vast majority for the primary.

"We are thrilled by the response to Mayor Giuliani's optimistic vision, experienced leadership, and proven record of results," campaign manager Mike DuHaime said in a statement. "Considering our late start, we are very pleased by the pace raised in March and see it as a positive indication of what's to come."

Another Republican candidate, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, expects to have raised about $1.3 million last quarter, campaign manager Rob Wasinger said yesterday. "The Republican activists who actually get out and do the hard work of winning elections are responding very favorably to Senator Brownback's candidacy, and we are looking forward to running a strong issue-based, positive campaign and continuing to activate the grass roots," he said.

Among Democrats, all eyes now are on Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who is expected to show a strong first quarter, in part because of a growing base of Internet supporters. As of yesterday, Obama's campaign wasn't prepared to release its figures. The New York Times today reported that aides to Obama said he had raised more than $20 million so far in 2007. Former North Carolina senator John Edwards reported Sunday raising $14 million so far this year.

Scott Helman can be reached at shelman@globe.com.


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