Image: John McCain
Paul Vernon  /  AP
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., waves to the crowd before speaking at a rally Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio.
updated 2/20/2008 12:15:05 AM ET 2008-02-20T05:15:05

Republican Sen. John McCain raised nearly $12 million in January, propelled by victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina that solidified his place as the leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination.

According to filings with the Federal Election Commission late Tuesday, McCain had $5.2 million cash on hand at the start of February and $5.5 million in debts, including a loan of nearly $4 million.

The month marked a turnaround for the Arizona senator, whose presidential campaign had once been considered all but dead. His fundraising also sealed his decision to not accept public financing during the primary.

Buttressed by a loan and a strategy that focused all of his efforts on New Hampshire, McCain fended off a better-financed Mitt Romney and established himself as the front-runner in the Republican contest.

McCain won the Wisconsin and Washington state primaries Tuesday, continuing a remarkable comeback that has made him the symbol of political resurrection. He is within reach of the delegates needed to secure the nomination.

January proved to be a crucial month for McCain. He won needed contests in New Hampshire and South Carolina and then established himself as the front-runner with a victory in Florida. His only remaining rival is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, whom McCain dispatched with ease Tuesday.

McCain's January finances represented the best single month of fundraising yet. But his report also showed that he entered the month with trepidation, borrowing $950,000 in the first week of January in addition to the $2.9 million he had borrowed in December. The loan improved McCain's cash on hand, allowing him to buy ad time in New Hampshire to fend off an aggressive run by Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

McCain had applied for public financing for the primary, but backed out this month. Though he did not secure his loan with the public money, loan records show that the bank, Fidelity Trust & Bank, had insisted that if McCain lost early primaries he would have been required to participate in the federally financed system. McCain had been entitled to at least $5.8 million in public funds.

By accepting the money, however, McCain would have been required to limit his spending for the primary to about $54 million — an amount the campaign is close to surpassing now.

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