TALLAHASSEE — Looks like Gov. Charlie Crist's reign as the heavyweight champion of Florida fund-raising is officially over.
Wounded by a rebellion from the right flank of his party, the Republican governor's U.S. Senate campaign announced late Friday that it had managed to raise just $1.1 million for the three-month fundraising period that ended last week.
While nothing to sneeze at, the total pales in comparison to the $3.6 million primary foe Marco Rubio's campaign reported for the same quarter.
After speaking to supporters in The Villages community Friday night, Crist had little to say about his fundraising. "I'm very pleased of what we've got in the bank," the governor said.
Overall, the Crist campaign still is sitting on a mountain of cash — $10 million raised, and $7.5 million in the bank — but a lot of that is money raised for a general election that's looking much fuzzier for Crist.
"Even with a limited fundraising program this quarter due to the governor's busy work schedule during session, we were still able to raise a tremendous amount of money," Crist campaign manager Eric Eikenberg said in a statement.
"We look forward to continuing to educate voters about the differences in this race between a true public servant and someone who uses public office for private gain, and we are grateful we have the resources to get out the governor's message of less taxes, less spending, and more freedom."
Rubio, the former state House speaker buoyed by a wave of voter frustration and Crist's embrace of the federal stimulus bailout, has surged ahead of the governor in the polls.
The momentum also has translated into cash: Rubio's camp announced earlier this week he had doubled his previous best quarter by raking in $3.6 million from January through March, giving him $7 million raised in total, with virtually all of it available to spend for the Aug. 24 primary.
In a play on the standard campaign line, Rubio campaign spokesman Alex Burgos said in an e-mail Friday that "the only money that matters in this race will always be the stimulus debt Charlie Crist and President Obama have piled on the American people."
Considering the landscape a year ago, the fundraising reversal of fortune is serious business for the governor. Crist jumped into the U.S. Senate race with a sonic boom, announcing last July that he had raised a record-busting $4.3 million in his first seven weeks as a candidate. Rubio scrounged together just $340,000 that quarter.
But now Crist finds himself down double-digits in the polls — and, for the first time, trailing in the last measurement where he still held an advantage over Rubio: his remarkable cash-raising prowess.
Detailed reports for the latest fundraising quarter won't be available until later.
But Orlando trial lawyer and Crist fundraiser John Morgan suggested Rubio's success in crafting a national profile as a darling of the Tea Party movement was likely drawing him reams of out-of-state donors.
Rubio's camp has said he has received contributions from more than 51,000 people, including more than $800,000 via an Internet "money bomb" fundraiser last month.
"Because of the political times we're in right now, reasonable Republicans are caught up in a political tsunami," said Morgan, who thinks the governor should circumvent the party rebellion against center-right candidates by running as an independent.
"I think his best case is made to all of the people of Florida."
Crist repeatedly has rejected the idea.
The main Democrat in the race, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, has yet to announce what he raised for the first quarter of the year.
Aaron Deslatte can be reached at 850-222-5564, or at email@example.com.
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