Romney's war chest sets Republican candidates' fundraising yardstick

The strength of Mitt Romney's war chest — expected to be between $15 million and $20 million — will be the yardstick against which other GOP presidential candidates' are measured.

The former Massachusetts governor's official second-quarter haul will become known in the next few weeks. He faced high expectations after having raised $10 million in pledges during a single day of calls, which his campaign sought to tamp down on.

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Regardless, the front-running candidate is expected to outpace his rivals when it comes to fundraising.

Only three GOP presidential contenders — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) and pizza magnate Herman Cain (R) — have released their second-quarter numbers; none of them came close to Romney's suspected haul.

Pawlenty raised $4.2 million, a figure considered relatively disappointing for a candidate of his stature, while Huntsman raised $4.1 million, a figure padded in part by self-contributions from his personal fortune. Cain said last week that he'd raised just under $2.5 million.

Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) have yet to release their numbers.

Bachmann turned heads earlier this year after boasting that her combined funds (from her congressional campaign and her PAC) were greater than Romney's first-quarter haul. She's unlikely to come close to repeating that this quarter, but as she surges in the polls, her fundraising report could provide some indication of her traction.

By contrast, Gingrich's report will provide some indication of just how much his campaign was crippled by the departure of top aides and finance officials in the last month. He set low expectations over the weekend, telling the Los Angeles Times that his numbers "will not be as good as we would like, and candidly, the consultants left us in debt."

Meanwhile, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was a fundraising machine during his 2008 presidential campaign, drawing on the fervor of grassroots supports to fund his so-called "money bombs." His quarterly filing will be a test of whether those intense supporters will still drive his 2012 effort, financially and otherwise.

And, in terms of possible candidates, observers will be watching former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's (R) Sarah PAC for signs of strength, especially after the bus tour she took last month that received heavy media attention, along with a revamped website and online operation for the PAC. 

However, the combined totals of all the GOP contenders are unlikely to come close to President Obama's second-quarter total. His campaign set a $60 million goal but hasn't released its official haul.

Fundraising totals also started to emerge for Senate candidates Tuesday.

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Former Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman Tim Kaine, a former governor of Virginia, raised $2.2 million for his Senate campaign.  His likely GOP opponent, former Sen. George Allen (Va.), has yet to release his numbers.

The race is expected to be one of the more expensive in the country, with two well-connected candidates squaring off.

"We are pleased with how many people are responding to this campaign in its first weeks," said Kaine spokesperson Brandi Hoffine. She said the campaign's primary focus for the coming months will be "building on our strong network of grassroots supporters who have already committed to helping elect Governor Kaine to the U.S. Senate and making sure every Virginia voter has the opportunity to hear his plans for creating jobs, growing our economy and restoring fiscal discipline in Washington."

Allen spokesperson Bill Riggs derided Kaine's numbers as the result of "liberal special interests," and described Kaine as a reliable supporter of "President Obama and the Washington Democrats’ pro-spending, pro-union, pro-big government policies."

On the Republican side, recently appointed Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) are considered the most vulnerable. Their fundraising totals, which are yet to be released, could play a large role in the success of their campaigns. 

Other Republicans to keep an eye on are incumbent Sens. Richard Lugar (Ind.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), and Bob Corker (Tenn.). All are targets of the conservative Tea Party movement. If the well-connected Lugar and Hatch did not strongly outraise their likely opponents, Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), they will considered even more vulnerable. Mourdock is in the race against Lugar but Chaffetz has said he'll make a decision about challenging Hatch between Labor Day and the end of the year.

In states with open Senate seats — including Texas, New Mexico, and Wisconsin — strong early fundraising totals could give candidates an edge in a primary or put them in good standing with the national party, which will be deciding how to distribute its funds in the coming months.

Other Senate races to keep an eye on: Missouri, where a trio of Republicans are vying for the chance to challenge Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill; Montana, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester faces a likely challenge from Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg; and Nebraska, where Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson may face Republican Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning. 

Fundraising reports are due to the Federal Election Commission by July 15.