Mitt Romney makes a fundraising splash. How much does that matter?

Mitt Romney lays down the gauntlet to Republican contenders with a one-day fundraising haul of more than $10 million. His rivals probably won't be able to keep pace, but they may not have to.

By , Staff writer

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    Former Massachusetts Governor and likely Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney answers questions from reporters after meeting with students at the University of Nevada on May 16.
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The gauntlet is down. Mitt Romney raised $10.25 million in one day Monday, as nearly 800 people gathered at the Las Vegas Convention Center to make fundraising calls for the former Massachusetts governor.

It was an impressive haul by any measure, including a similar “call day” he held four years ago for his last presidential campaign that brought in about $4 million less.

Can any of the other contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination even come close? And do they have to?

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The answers are “probably not” and “no.” Each candidate faces his or her own benchmark of fundraising success when the bell rings on June 30 and candidates report their second quarter 2012 numbers to the Federal Election Commission. (The results will be made public some time in July, but expect the big fundraisers to trumpet their success in press releases.)

Mr. Romney is known for his fundraising prowess, and so he had to score big on Monday or appear inferior to the Romney of 2008, who failed to win the nomination.

“The expectation is that Romney will be far and away the frontrunner” in fundraising, says Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

What really matters, though, is not coming in first money-wise, but in having enough to spend to get your message out. “That can be a lot less than the other candidates if you’ve got a message that’s selling,” says Mr. Sabato.

The likely candidate who’s really under the gun is former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. He could find it tough to raise $10 million in all of the second quarter, in part because he is not nearly as well-known as Romney and is still polling in the low single digits.

Mr. Pawlenty is widely seen as having top-tier potential, and is lining up a good stable of wealthy fund-raisers to “bundle” donations for him – including some people who backed Romney in 2008 and before that, former President George W. Bush. But he could find himself caught in a vicious cycle: people reluctant to donate to his campaign because he hasn’t caught on yet, but without money, it will be hard for him to catch on.

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“His fundraising as governor was adequate but not spectacular,” says Steven Schier, political science chair at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn. Now “he’s facing the fundraising challenge of his life.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich faces a different blend of challenges. He’s already widely known, but has high negatives. And just days into his campaign, he has already perhaps fatally damaged his candidacy. On “Meet the Press” on Sunday, he unexpectedly and harshly criticized the budget plan put forth by House Budget chair Paul Ryan, one of the party’s leading young lights – then had to walk the comments back.

The whole episode revived questions about Mr. Gingrich’s message discipline. So it may not matter that he has a record as a formidable fundraiser, pre-presidential campaign. A recent Wall Street Journal article on “Newt Inc.” reported that his network of organizations raised $32 million between 2009 and 2010, more than all his potential 2012 rivals combined. But that all may now be moot.

Another GOP contender with fundraising potential is libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul. As the spiritual godfather of the tea party movement with a devoted following, particularly among young conservatives, he has a ready, enthusiastic base. On a recent fundraising day, he raised $1 million in a “money bomb.” But for now, analysts don’t see him breaking out of his role as a niche candidate.

Election 101: Ron Paul sets sights on 2012. Ten things to know about him.

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