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Fundraising Numbers Show Just How Far Tables Have Turned

Former Florida House Speaker and Republican Senate candidate Marco Rubio raised $3.6 million in the first quarter of 2010, the most money he has brought in since declaring his candidacy.

During the last part of 2009, Rubio raised $1.75 million, the first time he had drawn close to the amount raised by his opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist, who had once outraised him 12-to-1 early in their contentious race for the Republican Senate nomination.

Crist has not released his first quarter totals. He announced last winter that he had raised $2 million in the last half of 2009 minutes after the release of the first public poll showing Rubio leading the race between them.

The attempt to step on Rubio’s momentum was short-lived, however, as the Miami Republican responded with nearly identical numbers hours later.

On Wednesday, Rubio claimed the numbers demonstrated the strength of his once-scoffed-at campaign.

“Supporter by supporter and idea by idea, our campaign is proving that ideas and principles still matter most in our democracy,” he said in an E-mail to supporters trumpeting the haul. “Above all, we’re encouraged by the strength of our limited government message and its ability to rally people around our cause.  Today’s announcement is a product of grassroots supporters that are stepping up to ensure we have the resources needed to promote this message throughout Florida.”

Rubio’s campaign pointed out that 99 percent of its donors have not reached the maximum contribution – the average contribution between January and March was $98.37, the campaign said. Additionally, the campaign said that over 95 percent of the money it has raised can be used for the primary, though it did not release cash-on-hand figures.

Rubio’s newfound fundraising prowess mirrors the stunning reversal in polling in the race. Crist had the lead in public polling by as many 30 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.

There was talk then of Rubio being forced to bow out of the Senate race. Wednesday, the national media took note of Rubio’s massive haul and the talk was about Crist’s political future.

“Fundraising speaks to a willingness on the part of supporters to put their money where their mouth is, to make an investment in a candidate,” Washington Post political reporter Chris Cillizza wrote on his popular blog “The Fix.” “That so many people -- 51,000 total donors and an average contribution of $98 in the first quarter of this year -- are investing in Rubio suggest genuine political peril for Crist.”

“Money equals momentum and momentum begets money. Rubio is in the sweet spot of that self-fulfilling prophecy at the moment,” Cillizza concluded. “Crist must find a way -- and find it quickly -- to disrupt that momentum.”

Democratic Senate nominee Kendrick Meek’s campaign did not release fundraising totals either Wednesday.

The Democrats’ presumptive gubernatorial nominee, however, said she raised $1.1 million for the quarter. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink said the haul brought her over $6.2 million raised since she entered the race to replace Crist last spring, with $5 million still on hand.

Sink’s campaign manager Paul Dunn said that the fundraising total was a vindication of Sink’s strategy of focusing on the Florida economy while her likely Republican opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum, has focused on federal issues as he presses a lawsuit against the recently approved national health care legislation.

“Alex Sink has laid out her Business Plan for Florida to revive, remake and reform our state's economy and make Florida stronger for the long term,” Dunn said in an E-mail to supporters. “And Florida's small business owners, entrepreneurs and working families are making it clear that they want a partner in the Governor's office who has the experience and understanding to help them create jobs.”

McCollum said earlier this week that he had raised $1.4 million between January and March, matching his total from the last fundraising quarter of 2009.

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