Boston Mitt Romney blew away the top-ranked Republican presidential candidates in fundraising during the first three months of the year, reporting he had raised an astonishing $23 million. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, favored in the polls, trailed far behind.
The former Massachusetts governor's first-quarter tally put him on a financial par with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, the leading Democratic candidate. On Sunday, she reported raising $26 million.
"People are having a positive reaction to him and are willing to open up a vein for him," David King, a professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said of Romney.
Former New York Mayor Giuliani, who has amassed a sizable lead in national popularity polls of GOP candidates, reported raising $15 million this quarter.
McCain's $12.5 million appeared to be another sign the Arizona senator's campaign is flagging.
"For McCain, it looks like he's made campaign finance reform work," King said. "Everyone knew he didn't like the role of money in politics, but one would have hoped he would have liked the role of money in his own campaign. He's now coming to this race a day late and $12 million short."
One other GOP contender, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a favorite of social conservatives, reported raising more than $1.9 million, including a $575,000 transfer from his Senate campaign account.
"The Republican activists who actually get out and do the hard work of winning elections are responding very favorably to Sen. Brownback's candidacy, and we are looking forward to running a strong issue-based, positive campaign and continuing to activate the grassroots," said Rob Wasinger, Brownback's campaign manager.
Still, the disparity had the potential to winnow the field and trigger a reshuffling among the top tier of candidates. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, had previously trailed not only Giuliani and McCain, but also former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson in some national popularity polls of Republican voters. Thompson has yet to declare his candidacy.