White House hopeful Mitt Romney and 400 of his backers raised more than $6.5 million on Monday in a glitzy fundraising blitz that will force all Republican rivals to take notice.
"They've come together and blown us away today, and humbled us at the same time," said the former Massachusetts governor as he clutched the hand of his wife, Ann.
The figure dwarfed the $2 million that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., raised and the $1 million collected by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Like Romney, the two have created committees exploring bids for the GOP's presidential nomination.
While Romney said he was not trying to send a message to anyone but his supporters, one of his national fundraising co-chairman disagreed.
"I think it's going to be a very strong message today — to everybody," said Tom Tellefsen, a classmate of Romney's at Harvard Business School and a top fundraiser for President Bush. "I think it's going to be a strong message to McCain as well as Giuliani, and I think it's going to be a strong message to those that are considering or haven't really yet laid the groundwork that maybe they should have."
The event at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center featured a four-screen projection TV system hung from the center of a ceiling, displaying pictures that included Romney in the Oval Office and at the presidential lectern.
Shoring up support among evangelicals
Besides the "National Call Day" event, Romney also sought over the weekend to shore up his support among evangelicals who have been dismayed to learn that he ran as a moderate for the U.S. Senate in 1994, as well as for Massachusetts governor in 2002.
He now is staunchly opposed to gay marriage, and says he supports a state-by-state approach to abortion rights.
"Now, I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way. And perhaps some in this room have had the opportunity to listen, learn, and benefit from life's experience — and to grow in wisdom, as I have," Romney said at a conservative gathering in Sea Island, Ga.
"My life experience convinced me that Ronald Reagan was right. I'm a conservative that gets the job done. And you don't just have to take my word for it, you can just look at my record," he added.
While Romney's presidential committee is still labeled "exploratory," he and his staff have made it clear they are in the race to win.
In e-mails sent last week, two of Romney's sons estimated he would need to raise $100 million to be among the "serious contenders" for the nomination. The stated goal on Monday was $1 million.