Romney Raises $23 Million in 2008 White House Bid, Bested Only By Hillary Clinton

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who's running third in GOP polls for the presidential nomination, announced Monday that he raised $23 million toward his White House bid in the first quarter of this year.

That puts him well ahead of Republican front-runners Rudy Giuliani, who reported raising $15 million during that time period, and Sen. John McCain, whose campaign said he earned $12.5 million.

Romney's numbers are also on par with Democratic White House hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, whose campaign said Sunday she had shattered all previous records by raising $26 million from Jan. 20 to March 31, 2007.

The Giuliani camp said $14 million of its funds are designated for the primary election, with $11 million is left to be spent. While the number is low for the GOP leader, Giuliani's aides say the campaign raised next to nothing in January, shook up its finance staff in February and only really got going in March. More than $10 million was raised in March.

“We are thrilled by the response to Mayor Giuliani’s optimistic vision, experienced leadership and proven record of results,” said Mike DuHaime, Giuliani campaign manager. “Considering our late start, we are very pleased by the pace raised in March and see it as a positive indication of what’s to come.”

Giuliani is expected to announce his candidacy in April. He formed an exploratory committee last November, which sets up a shop from which to collect donations. He didn't enter full swing into the race until February when he announced his statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission. The upcoming announcement is another opportunity for him to make a splash and boost his visibility among voters.

McCain, who's in Iraq right now, has the biggest organization and was expected to lead the money chase. Campaign Manager Terry Nelson said the Arizona senator did receive nearly 60,000 contributions from all 50 states at an average $200 per contribution.

"Although we are pleased with the organization we've built and polls show us strongly positioned in key primary states, we had hoped to do better in first quarter fundraising. We are already in the process of taking the necessary steps to ensure fundraising success moving forward," Nelson said, playing down the expectations by addding, "Fundraising in the first quarter is no more important than fundraising throughout the entire primary election campaign."

Romney's camp said the $23 million includes a $2.35 million personal loan from the candidate himself and $20,000 left over from his 1994 Senate campaign. The rest of the money, $20.6 million, is dedicated all to primary expenses.

The first quarter fundraising this year is breaking all records in both major parties with Clinton, the New York senator, setting the pace for both parties and blowing through every previous benchmark.

Clinton also has $10 million left over from her 2006 Senate race, raising her bank to $36 million.

"We are completely overwhelmed and gratified by the historic support that we've gotten this quarter," said Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle.

That compares to an estimated $21 million raised by Sen. Barack Obama, who is running second behind Clinton, and $14 million raised by Sen. John Edwards, who is in third place and rounds out the top tier of the Democratic candidates for the White House.

"We're above our budget for the year," Edwards deputy campaign manager Jonathan Prince said. "We're completely on track to have all the money that we need to be highly competitive in the campaign."

Among second tier candidates, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson has collected $6 million and Sen. Chris Dodd announced he had collected $4 million in the first quarter of 2007. Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., said on "FOX News Sunday" he had raised about $3 million in the first quarter and had about $3.6 million in his Senate campaign account that he could transfer to a presidential run.

Of the cash raised by Clinton, $4.2 million came from Internet donations, and 80 percent of the 50,000 donors gave under $100.

Edwards, who got a boost after his wife announced that her cancer had returned, raised $3.3 million online from 37,000 donors. He wouldn't say how many donors he had overall.

Obama aides said he had more than 83,000 donors.

"I think we'll do well," Obama said Sunday. "I think that we should meet people's expectations. More importantly, I think we will have raised enough money to make sure we can compete for the next quarter and beyond. I think we'll do pretty well."

Clinton aides would not specify how many of her contributions were designated only for the primary election and how many could only be used in the general election, if she were the party's nominee. Edwards' aides said about $1 million of his contributions could only be used in a general election.

Neither campaign divulged how much money it had spent in the quarter or how much cash it had in hand.

The total raised by each candidate outdistanced past presidential election records and set a new bar by which to measure fundraising abilities. Previous records were set for Republicans in 1996 when then-Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas raised $8.7 million. In March 1999, former Democratic Vice President Al Gore announced he had raised $8.9 million for his 2000 bid.

Most of the top tier candidates in the Republican and Democratic fields for 2008 are raising money for the primaries and the general election. The general election money can only be spent if the candidate wins the nomination.

For the first time since the post-Watergate era changes to campaign finance laws, candidates are considering bypassing the public financing system for the presidential primaries and the general election.

Several of the top candidates are raising both primary and general election money, artificially inflating their receipts. Candidates cannot touch their general election money and must return it to donors if they do not win the nomination.

The FEC ruled recently that candidates could also collect general election money now and still accept public financing later, provided they returned the money they raised. The opinion came at the request of Obama, who then said he would finance his general election campaign if his Republican rival did as well. McCain issued a similar challenge.

The first-quarter totals are one gauge of a campaign's strength. Compared with previous elections, attention to fundraising during the first three months of this year has been especially acute because the leading candidates have decided to forgo public financing for the primaries.

Competitive candidates are expected to raise between $75 million and $100 million this year.

FOX News' Carl Cameron and The Associated Press contributed to this report.