John McCain had his second biggest fundraising month in February, pulling in $11 million mostly after he all but secured the GOP presidential nomination with a collection of big wins in the Super Tuesday contests on Feb. 5.
But that was less than the $11.7 million the senator from Arizona raised in January, when he was still locked in a tight four-way race for his party's nomination, suggesting Republican donors have yet to coalesce behind their standard-bearer.
His February tally pales in comparison to the staggering sums raised by the two Democrats, raising troubling questions for Republicans as they look toward November and perhaps increasing the likelihood McCain will accept taxpayer cash for his general election campaign.
Democrat Barack Obama raised $55 million last month, the highest monthly total by any candidate still in a contested primary, while his rival for the nomination, Hillary Clinton, pulled in $35 million in February, according to reports filed late Thursday with the Federal Election Commission. Their February hauls bring their total contributions since the beginning of the campaign to $194 million for Obama, a senator from Illinois, and $156 million for Clinton, a senator from New York.
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McCain has raised $60.2 million overall — less than a third of Obama's tally.
Without a bruising primary on his hands, McCain was able to start getting his financial house in order last month. He ramped down his spending to $7.8 million overall, including only $1.7 million on media. By comparison, in January he spent a total of $10.4 million, with fully half of that — $5.2 million — on media. And last month he paid back $923,000 of the $3.9 million in bank loans he took out last year to keep his campaign afloat, finishing last month with $8 million in the bank.
A strategist working with McCain said the campaign this week also paid back the rest of the bank loans, which Democrats complain were secured improperly, using as collateral the promise of public funds designated for the primary election that McCain does not intend to accept.
But a comparison of the fundraising reports filed by McCain versus those posted by Obama and Clinton indicate the Republican might be well served to participate in the general election pubic financing program, which he took steps to do this month. It would provide $84 million in taxpayer money but subject McCain's campaign to spending limits that would render him at an extreme disadvantage to a Democrat who fundraises at Obama's rate.
If McCain did decide to take the public cash, he'd have to return or transfer to a so-called compliance committee the $2.9 million that he has raised in money that can only be used for the general election. Obama has raised about $7 million for the general election, while Clinton has raised more than $21 million.
McCain's campaign says he hasn't decided whether to take the public money. And the strategist working with the campaign dismissed a question about the disparity between McCain's fundraising and that of his Democratic rivals.
"We've been successful despite being heavily outspent in the past," the strategist said, referring to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's largely self-funded campaign for the GOP nomination.
Plus, this strategist asserted that the expensive contest between Obama and Clinton — likely to continue after the April 22 Pennsylvania primary — works in McCain's favor.
"The Democratic race is far from being settled and we've got an incredible opportunity to focus this race and show the American people why McCain is the most qualified and most prepared for the job," the strategist said.
The campaign finance reports show Obama spent heavily in February in an effort to put away Clinton, who appeared on the rink of defeat until her wins in Texas and Ohio on March 4.
Obama spent $42.7 million in February — 42 percent more than he spent in January, when the first contests were held — compared with the $31.6 million Clinton spent last month.
Still, his campaign ended the month with $39 million in the bank and less than $1 million in debt. Clinton finished with $33 million on hand and $8.7 million in debt, not including a $5 million loan she gave her campaign, which it had yet to start paying back.