Key Senate Republicans Report Big Totals in New Fundraising Reports

Don't call it a comeback yet, but the Republican Party had some reason for optimism with the release of new fundraising reports for its U.S. Senate candidates.

Some of the party's big names at the national and state level reported strong campaign returns for the second quarter, covering April to June.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for U.S. Senate in 2010, raised $4.3 million during the quarter, while Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt raked in $1.4 million for his own Senate bid.

Party officials say Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has shown a winning strategy in recruiting formidable candidates who can raise large amounts of cash.

"Our fundraising at the committee is up roughly 40 percent from where it was at this point two years ago," National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh told FOXNews.com Thursday.

"Senator Cornyn's goal has been to find experienced candidates who fit their states," Walsh said.

Cornyn became the committee's chairman following Nevada Sen. John Ensign's departure in August. They and the rest of the party face an uphill battle in cutting into the Democrats solid Senate majority, but Walsh said recruiting candidates like Crist and Blunt helps.

"These are experienced candidates who know what it takes to run a winning campaign," he said.

Crist is vying against former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, a Democrat, to fill the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez. Blunt is competing for Senate in Missouri against Democrat Robin Carnahan, Missouri's secretary of state, who has raised over $1 million in each of the first two fundraising quarters of this year.

Other formidable GOP candidates with large fundraising totals include Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, who ended June with a war chest of $4.3 million. And Rep. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who is expected to announce his Senate candidacy next week, raised $590,000 in the last quarter.

But the Democrats' fundraising also has yielded impressive results.

One of the unexpected fundraising stars within the Democratic Party is Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who until recently was a Republican. After switched parties this year, he ended June by logging $7.5 million on hand to run for re-election as a Democrat.

And the Senate's top Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has more than $7.3 million in cash -- presenting a challenge for Republicans looking for a candidate able to compete in the state. (Sen. Ensign's admission of an extra-marital affair last month didn't help the party's prospects in Nevada.)

"We recognize we're not going to bridge that gap overnight, but Senator Cornyn's goal has been working to close that," Walsh said.