WASHINGTON – A flurry of money and polling upended the Republican presidential field during the first three months of the year. A little known former governor is now the GOP's leading fundraiser. The party's presumed front-runner is fighting to stay in the leaders' pack. And a sharp-elbowed New Yorker with liberal social views is leading the popularity contest.
Financial reports filed over the past two days show that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is the fundraising leader, with $20.7 million in donations. But former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is staying even with him with cash on hand — both have more than $10 million in the bank.
Meanwhile, John McCain, the Arizona senator perceived as an early leader in the race, lagged behind Romney in money and behind Giuliani in the polls. Worse, he had half as much money in the bank as each of his two main rivals and had a $1.8 million debt, to boot.
That said, Romney is still fighting to gain name recognition. Though he spent more than $1.8 million in ads to publicize his face in key states, polls still place him in third or fourth place, trailing Republicans who aren't even in the race.
Giuliani is leading in the polls, buttressed by his image for unflappability after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. But his donor base is the smallest among the leaders and his spending, off to a late start this year, could catch up to his donor income as the campaign progresses.
McCain is looking to improve. After spending more on staff than Romney or Giuliani did, he is now cutting his payroll. He has revamped his fundraising operation, and his staunch support for a troop buildup in Iraq, while fiercely opposed by war critics, could resonate with the loyal Republican base.
Candidates have until midnight Sunday to file their first-quarter finance reports. Most Democrats were waiting until the final day to meet the deadline.