Crist Outraises Senate Rivals by Wide Margin
In just two months as a declared candidate for the U.S. Senate, Gov. Charlie Crist raked in more than 12 times as much money as his Republican primary opponent and more than three times as much as the leading Democratic candidate during the same quarter.
Crist’s campaign has raised more than $4.3 million since he entered the race for the Senate seat that will be open in 2010, his campaign announced Thursday. The extraordinary amount was raised in seven weeks and eclipses that of his nearest financial rival, Democratic candidate Kendrick Meek, who has raised $3.1 million, including $1.2 million for the most recent quarter ending June 30.
It also vastly outdoes Crist’s closest Republican challenger, former House Speaker Marco Rubio, who announced earlier this week he had raised $340,000. Crist averaged $86,000 per day since entering the race 50 days earlier, his campaign said in a low-key statement that belied a message of dominance sent by his totals.
“I am humbled by the support that I am receiving from the people of Florida and around the country,” Crist said in the statement. “I take their support seriously and continue to work every day to honor the trust and confidence they have placed in me.”
Crist campaign aides had said they expected to raise about $3 million. Meanwhile, Meek and Rubio’s campaigns both said they expected to be out-raised by the governor who has been on ballots across the state three times.
Meek's campaign told the News Service of Florida earlier this week that it took solace in raising over $1 million for a second straight quarter from 4,000 individual contributors. A campaign spokesman said Meek relied more heavily on small-dollar donors than Crist likely did, meaning they will not have to scour the state exclusively for new donors next time around.
And although his fundraising was far off Meek's pace and even further behind frontrunner Crist's, former Speaker Rubio characterized his fundraising as the beginning of a grassroots movement that will take time to grow.
"This is a strong statement about the direction you believe our Republican Party, our state and our nation should take," Rubio said in an E-mail sent to supporters. "It is an encouraging reminder about how piece by piece, supporter by supporter and idea by idea, we are building a movement that will only grow and gain momentum as we continue on this path."
However, University of South Florida political science professor Susan MacManus said that running for Senate while continuing to serve as governor makes Crist the closest thing the race would see to an incumbent. That gives him a leg up in early metrics like fundraising, she said.
“It’s easier to raise money when you’re sitting in the governor’s chair,” MacManus said. “These stats reflect the advantages of being like the incumbent: His standing in the polls and his ability to raise money outside of Florida. People who give money want to give to a winner.”
With more than a year to go before any votes are cast in the primary, MacManus said it is too early to write Rubio off. But falling so far behind Crist in early fundraising could present problems for the charismatic former House speaker, she said.
“This is the very time when he needs money to increase his name identification,” MacManus said. “Early money is essential for getting your name is out there and as Obama showed, for getting volunteers.”
There are pitfalls for Crist too, she quickly added.
“You’ve got to be really careful about projecting in Florida this far out,” she said. “The governor still has one more session to go and the Democrats are already lobbing attacks at him. Rubio is probably hoping for some unexpected hurdle that he won’t be able to jump over. That’s either going to come out of the next session or from something the Democrats are throwing at him.”
But there’s no guarantee that will happen, MacManus said. And having out-raised the top fundraising Democrats as well, Crist will have the money to combat attacks in Florida’s expensive television markets.
“Rubio has to hope that Republicans are so unhappy with where taxes are after session next year that the governor’s approval ratings slip,” she said. “I think he’s expecting at some point that the governor’s stratospheric popularity will come down as we get closer to the election. If that doesn’t happen, I think it’s going to be hard for him to win.”