WASHINGTON - Gov. Tim Pawlenty, eyeing a run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, has raised nearly $1.3 million since October, nearly doubling the take of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is considered one of the Republican front-runners in the race.
At the same time, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican, ramping up for a 2010 reelection campaign that will be watched across the nation, raked in $1.5 million last year -- more than any other Minnesota politician running for office.
Gubernatorial candidates have been busy, too.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said Friday that his campaign hauled in $278,000 from November through January. The closest money contender was House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who raised $254,000 from August, when she entered the governor's race, to Dec. 31.
That candidates are so eager to reveal their numbers in advance of a coming deadline for campaign finance reports shows that, against the odds, Minnesota is on its way to another big money year in politics.
Corporate leaders here showed they were ready to send Pawlenty on to the national stage, opening up their wallets to give him a year-end finish that put him well ahead of Romney, who garnered $735,777 in the last quarter of 2009.
Pawlenty's Freedom First political action committee (PAC), which he formed in October, took in $1,279,743 as of Dec. 31. Romney's Free and Strong America PAC remains larger than Pawlenty's, kicking off 2010 with more than $1.1 million in the bank, compared to about $884,000 for Pawlenty, according to papers filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission.
That means Pawlenty still has a long way to go to surpass Romney, who took in more than $2.9 million in contributions last year and was able to distribute some $58,000 to federal Republican candidates and political committees across the country.
Pawlenty listed nearly $17,000 in contributions to federal candidates, including contributions to Sen.-elect Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Minnesota Republicans in Congress.
Phil Musser, a senior adviser to Pawlenty's PAC, credited the wave of donations to Pawlenty's record in Minnesota and "his natural ability to connect with people."
Pawlenty's PAC took in donations from more than 2,750 individuals, including leading Minnesota GOP donors such as TCF chief executive Bill Cooper, broadcasting executive Stanley Hubbard and others.
"He's an optimistic, authentic leader with a conservative record of balancing budgets and passing innovative reforms," Musser said. "The PAC is off to a solid start and we look forward to playing a big role in the ideas debate and in supporting the next generation of Republican leaders."
Pawlenty aides said they expect his fundraising activity to slow in coming months as he devotes more time to his final legislative session as governor. In recent months he has traveled widely, including stops in the early caucus-primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Fiery rhetoric proves fruitful
Meanwhile, Bachmann, running for a third term in Congress, has by far the biggest war chest in her Sixth District race, starting the election year with a cool $1 million in the bank.
Proving that provocative rhetoric can be potent fundraising fodder for both the right and left, the outspoken Minnesota Republican raised nearly $600,000 of her total in the last three months of 2009, a period that included her highly publicized rally on the Capitol steps against the Democrats' health care bill.
In public pronouncements and fundraising appeals, Bachmann has branded herself as "public enemy No. 1" for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
State Sen. Terryl Clark, one of two Democrats vying to challenge Bachmann, has raised more than $600,000, nearly half of which came in the last three months of 2009.
Physician Maureen Reed, who is also seeking the DFL nomination, brought in $574,000 for 2009, including $208,000 in the last quarter.
Each of the DFL challengers has started the year with a little less than $400,000.
Bachmann's fundraising totals give the GOP a clear advantage in her district, though Democrats appeared to be getting closer in the last few months, if Clark and Reed's numbers are combined.
Given Bachmann's national profile, the race will command national attention and attract a flood of money from outside the state. In 2008, Bachmann's race tightened up after she suggested in a cable news interview that then-candidate Barack Obama held "anti-American" views.
Bachmann said that nearly 9,000 of her individual contributors are from Minnesota. Said her spokesman, Dave Dziok: "The numbers speak for themselves, and the campaign couldn't be stronger."
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, considered the GOP's top congressional target in Minnesota, raised more than $715,000 last year and begins the year with $425,000 in the bank.
In the governor's race, other DFLers have reported raising sums over various time periods. DFLer Matt Entenza reported raising more than $300,000 since he entered the race in early 2009. DFLer Tom Bakk, who entered the race in May 2008, has reported raising $362,000. Rep. Paul Thissen's campaign said it raised more than $370,000 in more than a year of campaigning. Rep. Tom Rukavina says he's raised more than $135,000 since July.
Among leading Republicans, Rep. Marty Seifert recently reported raising over $262,000 in the last six months. Rep. Tom Emmer reported raising over $115,000 in a similar period.
One leading candidate that has not released figures early is DFLer Mark Dayton.
Staff writer Pat Doyle contributed to this report Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753