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Mitt Romney remains fundraising king, but look who's hard on his heels

Mitt Romney was both the big fundraiser and the big spender in January, in his quest for GOP's presidential crown. Despite his big war chest, he lags Rick Santorum by 10 points nationally.

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Theintense super-PAC spending against Romney is what dented him in South Carolina and helped propel Gingrich into his biggest victory of the cycle so far. Santorum doesn’t have an Adelson-level sugar daddy, but for a live-off-the-land campaign, every bit helps.

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Despite Romney's problems, he and his super PAC had the biggest financial cushion by January’s end: The Romney campaign had $7.7 million in cash on hand, and the pro-Romney super PAC had $16 million cash on hand. Neither had any debt, and there’s no indication that Romney has opened up his own substantial checkbook, in contrast with his effort four years ago.

Santorum had $1.5 million cash on hand and nearly $1 million in debt on Jan. 31. Gingrich had nearly $1.8 million cash on hand and $1.7 million in debt. Congressman Paul had $1.6 million cash on hand and no debt.

So Romney is still the best-positioned Republican, financially. But those numbers don’t reflect the fundraising boon to Santorum after his trifecta of Feb. 7. He says he brought in more than $1 million on each of the two days after that surprise sweep.

The biggest winner of all is President Obama. Had the Republicans closed out their nomination race early – presumably with Romney – that would have allowed the party to focus solely on defeating Mr. Obama in November. Instead, the Republicans have a circular firing squad. And Obama is financially comfortable with a $76 million war chest and only a little more than $1 million in debt as of the end of January. 

In January, the Obama campaign raised $11.8 million. The pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, raised only $59,000 in January – but that was before the president flip-flopped and embraced the group. Now that he supports donations to Priorities – while still opposing, in theory, the existence of such outside groups – the test begins: How will Democrats fare in the brave new world of limitless donations to super PACs? The next reports to the Federal Election Commission will tell the story. 

Election 101: Five basics about 'super PACs' and 2012 campaign money 

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