By LUCY MORGAN
The state attorney general says he's humbled by the outpouring of support he's getting in his gubernatorial campaign.
TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist raised more than $1.1-million this week at his first Florida fundraiser in Tampa.
That's almost double the amount Gov. Jeb Bush raised when he began running for governor in 1997, and just shy of the $1.2-million Bush raised in his first quarter of fundraising in 2001.
Crist is the early front-runner in what is expected to be a hard fought Republican primary for governor in 2006. Bush is term-limited after eight years in office and cannot seek reelection.
"I'm very humbled by that outpouring of support," Crist said Thursday when asked about the money he has collected so far.
Campaign spending is likely to hit an all-time high in the 2006 race, thanks in part to a change that will allow candidates for statewide office to raise as much as $20-million and still accept public financing.
Crist faces stiff competition from Chief Finance Officer Tom Gallagher, a well known Republican who is widely considered one of the state's most adept fundraisers.
Crist has enlisted St. Petersburg developer Brett Sembler, son of Ambassador Mel Sembler, as his finance chairman. Gallagher's finance team includes Jacksonville insurance executive Tom Petway and Boca Raton developers Mark Guzzetta and Ned Siegel.
Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist who once worked campaigns for Gov. Bob Martinez, said a lot of people suggested Crist was a nice guy but couldn't raise the money he'll need to oppose Gallagher.
"As it turns out, he can raise money," Ballard said. "There is a whole new crop of people who have found him. It's good for him and the party."
Brett Doster, manager of Gallagher's campaign, said they will have their first fundraising events next week.
"We expect to remain competitive," Doster said.