Columbia mayoral candidate Steve Benjamin raised $102,475 in his first full fundraising quarter, believed to be the most ever for a City Council candidate.
Mayor Bob Coble, who is not seeking re-election, raised $133,000 in the final quarter leading up to his 2006 race, but a portion of that was borrowed. All of Benjamin's money came from campaign contributions.
"Steve Benjamin is the front-runner," said Bob Wislinski, a political consultant who has been involved in numerous city elections. "He has made a viable case that he will be the next mayor."
City Councilman Kirkman Finlay, believed by political observers to be Benjamin's most serious challenger, raised $6,100 in the nine days between his announcement for mayor and the end of the quarter.
And with Finlay's short fundraising window, some think the real comparison will be in the next quarter.
"I don't think that's a fair comparison," said political consultant Tige Watts, who helped Finlay in his first campaign for City Council but has not signed on to a campaign for the 2010 election. "He only had really eight days (to raise) money for his mayor's race."
Benjamin spent about half of his money during the quarter, including more than $21,000 to New Partners, the Washington, D.C.-based political consulting firm that helped organize President Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
That leaves Benjamin with about $58,000 on hand. Finlay spent about $4,275, leaving him with $1,825.
Benjamin pointed to his 358 contributors, most of whom gave donations of $100 or less, as a sign of the type of growing support needed to win a local election.
"Our team is getting broader, and it's getting deeper. I find that encouraging," Benjamin said. "We're not going to slow down."
But $45,390 of Benjamin's money, about 40 percent of his total, came from contributors outside Columbia's city limits.
"Everybody wants to have an enormous (fundraising) number, but when you sort it out, the question becomes how many people can vote," Finlay said.
Benjamin, an attorney, announced his candidacy for mayor in August, but has been accepting campaign contributions since early July.
In the 90-day fundraising period, Benjamin had seven fundraisers, sent out numerous Obama-style e-mails asking for money - complete with the campaign's signature red "contribute" button - and worked the same fundraising network that netted him $1.1 million in a 2002 failed bid for state attorney general.
Finlay "spent an hour or so on the phone" to raise his $6,100, according to Steve Fooshe, Finlay's campaign manager.
Finlay has $16,121 on hand from his City Council re-election campaign, but state law requires Finlay receive written permission from each donor before he can use that money for his mayoral campaign.
Finlay, a businessman, said he isn't intimidated by Benjamin's fundraising ability, saying he raised $100,000 in a single fundraiser during his 2006 campaign for City Council.
Next month, Finlay says he has several events planned.
"Some pretty good money is coming this way," he said.