WASHINGTON – John McCain entered the second quarter of the year with half the cash in the bank that his two main Republican rivals for the presidency reported, a significant challenge for a candidate who is trying to put some luster back to his campaign.
McCain aides said the senator from Arizona had $5.2 million cash in hand after spending $8.4 million during the first three months of the year. McCain, who days ago moved to revamp his fundraising operation, also reported $1.8 million in debts.
Figures that the campaign filed with the Federal Election Commission Saturday showed McCain trailing Mitt Romney in such key financial benchmarks as money raised and money in the bank. He also trailed Rudy Giuliani in money in the bank, though he was nearly at par with the former New York mayor on money raised.
McCain reported raising $13 million for the primary election. Romney, the fundraising leader, collected $20.7 million and Giuliani raised $13.6 million for the primary. Romney reported having $11.9 million in the bank and Giuliani had $10.8 million.
McCain, campaigning in Iowa Saturday, downplayed the significance of the financial figures but blamed himself for not posting higher totals.
"I wasn't as personally involved as I should have been, and that was a mistake on my part," he told the Associated Press in an interview in Marshalltown, Iowa. "We'll make up for it in the next quarter. For all of us, we're still in spring training."
Former Texas Rep. Tom Loeffler, whom McCain just placed in charge of fundraising, met with the campaigns national finance chairs this week in Washington to set up a system of fundraising goals for so-called bundlers who raise money from wealthy acquaintances. Different fundraisers will have goals of raising $50,000, $100,000 and $200,000, aides said.
For McCain, the first-quarter report caps a frustrating period that saw him slip in the polls to Giuliani and saw Romney emerge as the fundraising leader. He has delayed his formal announcement tour, has cut midlevel staff and tried to revamp his finance machine.
McCain also came under withering criticism from Iraq war critics for offering an upbeat assessment of conditions in Baghdad after he and a congressional delegation visited a market while traveling in armored military vehicles and wearing body armor.
The first quarter reports, which candidates must file with the FEC by midnight Sunday, offer the first detailed look at how candidates are raising and spending their money and can offer hints at their organizational strengths or weaknesses.
The totals have taken on added importance this election cycle because the top candidates in both the Republican and Democratic fields have decided not to accept public money in the primaries. Some are preparing to bypass the public financing system in the general election by raising general election money as well. The candidates can't use those funds unless they win their party's nomination.
In one bright spot for McCain, his campaign reported having a total of 51,000 contributors, more than either Romney or Giuliani. Both Giuliani and Romney relied more heavily on donors who gave the $2,300 maximum allowed — Giuliani's average donation was $520 and Romney's was $650. McCain averaged about $250 per contributor.
Also on Saturday, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich filed his financial documents with the FEC, reporting $345,000 in receipts during the first three months of the year and $164,000 cash in hand.
Leading Democratic candidates were expected to file their reports on Sunday.