SALT LAKE CITY — The official tallies won't be in for another two weeks, but Mitt Romney appears to have a big lead among GOP presidential candidates in the race for campaign cash.
The frontrunner for the Republican nomination is said to have collected between $15 million and $20 million since April for his second White House bid, a total only President Barack Obama is likely to top.
The Democratic incumbent is anticipating raising a record $1 billion for his re-election, including a goal of $60 million during the second quarter of 2011.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who didn't get in the race until his recent return from Beijing where he served as U.S. ambassador to China, is said to have $4.1 million, although about half of that amount likely came out of his own pocket.
Still, Huntsman has almost as much money from the quarter as former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a more prominent GOP contender who's been on the campaign trail for some time.
Both Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City who went on to become governor of Massachusetts, and Huntsman have already held fundraisers in Utah.
And there's little doubt they'll be back, again and again.
"The dollar figure they got to before was unprecedented," said Quin Monson, associate director of Brigham Young University's Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy.
In the 2008 presidential election, Utahns contributed just under $10 million. More than half that amount, nearly $5.5 million, went to Romney, then the only candidate with Utah ties, including membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Now, with another Mormon in the race who was one of the state's most popular governors, Monson said there's no telling how much more money Utahns will contribute this time around.
"I think we'll likely be surprised again, just because we have two prominent candidates," Monson said. "I don't know where that stops."
Utahn John Miller, Romney's national finance co-chairman, said the campaign expects to raise more money in the state this election cycle — even with Huntsman in the race.
"I don't think it's affected our campaign. I think Mitt is established as a political leader, and there's a pretty good chance that he's going to be the next president," Miller said.
Those who backed him in 2008 are ready to support Romney again, Miller said. "So we haven't seen any diminished support from the people of Utah."
Romney drew a large crowd last month when he made a public appearance at the Hires Big H drive-in downtown, his first in Utah after officially entering the race.
More importantly for his campaign coffers, Romney also attracted plenty of supporters at a pair of fundraisers held the same day, one in a private Orem home and the other at the Grand America hotel. Each cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend.
His campaign hasn't released how much Romney raised that day, but Miller said the campaign was "very satisfied with what happened and we think the citizens of Utah are supportive and very generous."
Huntsman was initially scheduled to be in Utah the same day as Romney for a fundraiser at the members-only Alta Club, but ended up postponing the event, also priced at a minimum of $1,000 a person, for several days.
Zions Bank CEO and President Scott Anderson, who has been asked to serve as Huntsman's national finance co-chairman, wouldn't say how much the campaign made in Utah, but said more than the 100 people initially expected showed up.
Anderson said Utahns are happy to support both Romney and Huntsman, and are proud their state can claim two presidential candidates. "That's pretty unique," Anderson said.
Another Huntsman supporter, Utah World Trade Center CEO Lew Cramer, agreed many Utahns will end up contributing to both candidates.
Raising money for Romney in 2008, Cramer said he realized Utahns were learning an important lesson about how important money is to politics.
"It dawned on them, people in Utah, that if you want a serious candidate, you have to put serious money behind him," Cramer said. "They realized the only way Mitt was going to be competitive was to have a war chest."
University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said contributions will become even more important as the field of GOP candidates begins to narrow and more emphasis is placed on expensive advertising campaigns, especially in key early voting states.
"Candidates are going to have to spend substantial amounts," Burbank said. Romney as the frontrunner will help him continue to pile up cash.
But Huntsman shouldn't be hurt by having had to contribute his own money to his campaign, Burbank said, especially since it's no secret his family has considerable wealth.
"It's not a bad thing to use our own money," Burbank said. "I think he's probably doing exactly what you have to do. You need to use enough of your own money to convince people that, indeed, you're serious."14 comments on this story
And money isn't everything in a presidential campaign, Burbank said, noting that Arizona Sen. John McCain's campaign ran into financial difficulties early on in the 2008 race but he still became the party's nominee.
"To have a competitive election" Burbank said, "you don't need to be the person with absolutely the most money."