Romney will lead GOP in first-quarter fundraising

Chris Cillizza
Reporter June 26, 2011

This week, June will end — and with it, the second fundraising quarter of 2011.

For the men and woman running for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the close of the quarter amounts to one of the first real proof points of the contest.

Money alone won’t win an election — see former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s underfunded 2008 Iowa caucus victory as evidence — but it is widely regarded as an early test of who has momentum and who doesn’t.

In advance of Thursday’s filing deadline, we provide a Fix handicapping of what to expect from each of the major 2012 GOP contenders — ranked from who is likely to have raised the most to who has probably brought in the least.

• Mitt Romney: The former Massachusetts governor will be, without question, the leader of the fundraising pack. In reality, he’s competing not against the rest of the field in his first three months of active fundraising but against the $23.4 million he raked in back in the first quarter of 2007. Although that total included $2.35 million of his own money and Romney has said he has made no personal donations this time, $23 million is likely to be the number on which his relative fundraising success will be judged. Romney aides note that the sluggish economy, coupled with two fewer weeks to raise cash, will make it tough to equal the 2007 total.

• Michele Bachmann: If money follows momentum — and it does — then the congresswoman from Minnesota will be sitting pretty when all the cash is counted. Bachmann had a standout debate performance this month in New Hampshire, and a Des Moines Register poll released over the weekend showed her in a statistical tie with Romney in Iowa. Bachmann is no stranger to raising big sums: She collected more than $13 million for her 2010 House campaign.

• Ron Paul: Of all the candidates not named Romney, the Texas congressman has the most proven record of raising a lot of cash for a presidential race. In 2007 alone, he collected more than $27 million for his bid — including nearly $20 million in the final three months of the year. A sign of Paul’s fundraising confidence? He spent $31,000 — the most of any candidate — on a prime spot at Iowa’s Ames Straw Poll in August. Still, no matter how much money Paul has, he has not proved that he can reach outside his ardent — but tiny — electoral base.

• Jon Huntsman Jr.: The former Utah governor hasn’t been in the 2012 mix long — he just finished his post as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China at the end of April — but his early fundraising returns seem promising. On his first day as an official candidate last week, Huntsman brought in $1.2 million at a fundraiser in New York, and his schedule in the final days of the month is loaded with cash-collecting events. Huntsman needs a stronger-than-expected fundraising quarter to show that he belongs in the top tier of candidates. He may well get it.

• Tim Pawlenty: Judging from early indications, this could be a tough week for the former Minnesota governor. If he is outraised by everyone listed above, there will be questions asked about whether his campaign — which, on paper, looks quite impressive — is catching fire. Pawlenty’s weak performance at a debate in New Hampshire this month probably stunted any fundraising momentum he was hoping to build, and it didn’t help that the Register poll showed him at just 6 percent, running behind the likes of Paul and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.). The Pawlenty team insists that he will have enough money to be competitive in Iowa and New Hampshire and notes that if he wins either or both, the money will be there.

• Rick Santorum: The former senator from Pennsylvania raised and spent more than $30 million in his unsuccessful reelection bid in 2006. That total proved that he once had a national fundraising network built around his image as a leader in the Senate on social-conservative issues. But six years later, Santorum is a major long shot, and it is unknown whether he can persuade those former donors to invest in him again. A poor showing could raise serious questions about his viability.

• Herman Cain: Cain, a former Godfather’s pizza chief executive, was widely regarded as the winner of the first presidential debate — in South Carolina in May — and recent polling in Iowa and nationally shows him winning double-digit support. That should give him several strong talking points to make to donors large and small. But, Cain has run for office only once before — a failed Senate bid in 2004 — and has not demonstrated a capacity to raise a substantial amount of money. Can he turn the buzz surrounding his candidacy into cash?

• Newt Gingrich: The financial travails of the former House speaker’s campaign are well known, with rumors flying that he may show as much as $1 million in debt in the coming fundraising report. Gingrich seems likely to soldier on no matter how badly his fundraising went over the past three months, but his campaign is a shell of its former self.

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