Rubio Raises Eye-Popping $3.6 Million So Far This Year

Posted April 7, 2010 at 1:03pm

Former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio (R) announced Wednesday that his Senate campaign raked in a staggering $3.6 million during the first three months of 2010.

That total — which Republican insiders on Capitol Hill don’t expect to be matched by his primary opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist — will only further cement Rubio’s status as the unquestioned frontrunner in the race for the GOP nomination.

It now seems like ancient history, but it was just nine months ago that political observers were wondering if Crist’s fundraising would knock Rubio out of the primary before the election year even began. In the second quarter of 2009, Crist raised an eye-popping $4.3 million, while Rubio was able to scratch together just $350,000 for what was then considered his long-shot bid.

But by running to the right of Crist, earning the backing of conservative leaders and making use of grass-roots fundraising networks, Rubio was able to catch fire late last year and his fundraising has taken off. Rubio raised a little more than $1 million in the third quarter of 2009 and almost $1.8 in the fourth quarter of the year.

Throughout the primary, Rubio’s most effective attacks against Crist have come from hammering the governor for supporting President Barack Obama’s stimulus program in early 2009. Rubio repeatedly returned to that issue at the candidates’ first debate late last month to undermine the governor’s attempts to paint himself as a fiscal conservative. Rubio’s campaign has also used the issue as a fundraising tool. The campaign held an online fundraiser in February on the one-year anniversary of Crist’s speech supporting the stimulus. Rubio raised more than $800,000 in 10 days through that event.

Despite Rubio’s first-quarter fundraising success, Crist’s strong early fundraising means that he’ll continue to have a cash-on-hand lead entering the final four-and-a-half months leading up to the primary. At the beginning of the year, Crist had about $7.6 million in the bank to Rubio’s nearly $2.1 million.

As long as Crist doesn’t shift gears and attempt to run as an Independent (a move some Florida observers expect him to make despite Crist’s repeated statements to the contrary) the Republican primary will continue to be an expensive affair. And that’s just fine by Rep. Kendrick Meek (Fla.), who is all but certain to be the Democratic nominee in November.

Meek had three $1 million-plus fundraising quarters in 2009 and began 2010 with $3.3 million on hand. Campaign insiders say Meek broke the $1 million fundraising mark again during the first three months of 2010.