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Rubio Banks $1.75 Million in Bid to Capture Senate Seat

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio raised nearly as money much as Gov. Charlie Crist did in the last three months of 2009, making the race for the Republican nomination look even that much closer.

Rubio announced his best fundraising quarter to date Tuesday as the campaigns engaged in a spin battle following the release of a poll showing them neck and neck.

Crist's U.S. Senate campaign responded to the news that he had dropped in polls with the announcement Tuesday that he raised $2 million in the final quarter of 2009. But just as quickly, Rubio’s campaign confirmed to the News Service that the former charismatic South Florida lawmaker had raised $1.75 million in the same period.

Crist is sitting on a campaign war chest of $7.5 million, but the quarter marked the closest Rubio has come to Crist in a single fundraising period so far. Rubio has also spent more money in raising his statewide profile, but he will report next week having $2 million on hand, his campaign said Tuesday.

However, despite the difference in campaign war chests, Rubio said that his latest fundraising haul would allow him to compete with Crist.

“We’re on pace in meeting our goals, and I am as confident as ever that we will have the resources to deliver our message and be successful,” Rubio said in a statement Tuesday.  “As we look to the long road ahead, I pledge to continue speaking with a clear voice on behalf of the ideals that are uniting voters across Florida behind our cause.”

The fundraising turnaround for Rubio mirrors a stunning reversal in polling in the race. The same poll that essentially found Crist and Rubio tied Tuesday had the governor leading by 29 points this summer. And in fundraising numbers for the second quarter reported in July, Crist raised 12 times as much money as Rubio, who drew just $340,000 compared to Crist’s $4.3 million.

Rubio responded to being down in the polls and in fundraising by overhauling his campaign team in July, dumping campaign manager Brian Seitchik and chief fund-raiser Ann Herberger, formerly Gov. Jeb Bush's top cash collector. Rubio added Pat Shortridge, a former political operative for former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, a Texas Republican and one-time majority leader who has endorsed Rubio.

“At this point, Speaker Rubio believes it is necessary to click the reset button in certain areas of the campaign," campaign spokesman Alex Burgos said at the time. “Ultimately, our path to victory requires us to tap into grassroots discontent with the current leadership in Washington and the governor's office, and then converting it into a movement for the idea-driven alternative.”

It is hard to argue now that Rubio has not righted his campaign’s ship. In addition to pulling even with Crist in polling and narrowing the fundraising gap, he has drawn national attention from New York Times Magazine, National Review, and conservative commentator George Will. He will give the keynote address at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Furthermore, Crist’s $2 million fourth quarter haul was down slightly from his $2.5 million third quarter number and his eye-popping $4.3 million second quarter number. By contrast, Rubio followed his disappointing $340,000 second quarter showing by taking in nearly $1 million in the third quarter and then topping it the fourth.

And Tuesday, it was Gov. Crist who was contemplating what had gone wrong in the campaign.

"I don't know if it does or doesn't," Crist said in response to questions from reporters about whether or not the new polling showed his campaign had made errors. "It's not really my concern. My concern is trying to do the work of the people and make sure we continue to stay focused on that."

Rubio, however, promised to stay the course, speaking of the same grassroots his campaign said this summer it had not tapped into.

“Every day, I continue to be humbled and energized by the outpouring of support from those who believe America should stay true to the principles of limited government, traditional values and individual freedom,” Rubio said.  “The best measure of our movement’s success will always be real people standing up on behalf of these principles that have made America the greatest country in history.

“Elections are neither fundraising nor popularity contests,” he continued. “Supporter by supporter and idea by idea, we are building a campaign that is proving ideas still matter most in our democracy, but I know we have to continue working even harder against the most prolific fundraiser in Florida history.”

Largely overshadowed by the Crist-Rubio tit-for-tat Tuesday, as he has been for much of the campaign, likely Democratic nominee Kendrick Meek announced this week that he had raised $1.2 million in the three month period between the beginning of October and the end of December. The haul brought Meek, currently a U.S. Rep. from Miami, over $4.5 million raised since the start of his Senate campaign last year, though the campaign did not yet report how much cash it had on hand.

Last fall, more money had been raised for the Senate race in Florida than in all but two states - Pennsylvania and Nevada

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