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Two Likely GOP Presidential Candidates Pull in Millions

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Minnesota Gov. Timothy Pawlenty speaks at a luncheon during the Republican National Committee summer meeting in San Diego on Thursday, July 30, 2009. (AP)

Two likely contenders for the 2012 Republican nomination are flexing their fundraising muscles. 

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty have each raised millions of dollars for their political action committees last year.

For 2009, Romney raised $2.9 million for his committee, Free and Strong America, and contributed $120,000 to Republican federal candidates and causes. The committee is kicking off this year with $1.1 million cash on hand.

In recent months, the committee has contributed money to high-stakes contests that have energized the Republican Party, including $9,000 in early "seed money" to Scott Brown, who won Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts, $6,800 to Chris Christie who won the New Jersey gubernatorial race, and $5,000 to Bob McDonnell who won the Virginia gubernatorial race.   

In the final three months of 2009, Pawlenty raised nearly $1.3 million for his political action committee from more than 2,750 donors, according to papers to be filed with the Federal Election Commission this weekend. 

The impressive figures highlights the organizational strength of Pawlenty's political action committee, Freedom First.

"As more people learn about the governor, they're really impressed by his record in Minnesota and his natural ability to connect with people," said Phil Musser, a senior adviser to the committee.

"He's an optimistic, authentic leader with a conservative record of balancing budgets and passing innovative reforms," he said. "The PAC is off to a solid start and we look forward to playing a big role in the ideas debate and in supporting the next generation of Republican leaders."

The committee spent nearly $400,000 during that period, including contributions to the campaign committees for Senator-elect Scott Brown, Rob Portman, Doug Hoffman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. and the Minnesota Congressional delegation.

By comparison, former Alaska Republican Gov. Sarah Palin's PAC took in $732,000 during the first six months of 2009. She has yet to file her year-end report but most Republican insiders are expecting a huge number.

In the past few months, Pawlenty has visited both Iowa and New Hampshire, two crucial early test states for presidential campaigns. Advisers say Pawlenty will not travel as much over the coming months because of the legislative session in Minnesota, where some have accused him of shirking responsibilities as the state's governor while he mounts his presidential bid.

Pawlenty, however, will speak next month in Washington at the Conservative Political Action Conference -- an event that traditionally attracts GOP White House hopefuls.

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