[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/12/03/art.schweitzer.gi.jpg caption="Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the DGA's chairman, upped the ante for the next round of campaigns."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Democratic Governors Association raised $5.3 million in the first three months of 2009, the group announced Wednesday - the largest amount of money the committee has ever collected in the first quarter of an off-year cycle.
The DGA raised $23 million in 2008. But Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the DGA's chairman, upped the ante for the next round of campaigns, calling the upcoming gubernatorial races in 2009 and 2010 "once-in-a-generation elections."
While 36 governorships are up for grabs in the 2010 midterms, two governorships are at stake this November: in Virginia (an open seat) and in New Jersey (where incumbent governor Jon Corzine will have the ability to spend millions from his own pockets to defeat his Republican challenger).
That means the DGA's cash could be especially useful for the eventual Democratic nominee in Virginia, who will emerge on June 9 after what is shaping up to be a long and costly three-way primary battle. The winner will face the Republican candidate, Bob McDonnell, who has no primary challenger and has so far avoided spending a significant chuck of his war chest.
(Updated after the jump with Republican response)
The Republican Governors Association, wise to the political stakes of the election, has already given McDonnell $1 million for his campaign.
McDonnell entered April with more cash on hand than any of his three potential Democratic rivals - former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, former House delegate Brian Moran and state senator Creigh Deeds.
UPDATE: The Republican Governors Association said they planned to disclose their own fundraising haul in June, when the numbers were due.
"With the DGA being owned and operated by the labor unions and Democrats controlling the House, Senate and Presidency, we'd be shocked if they weren't breaking records," said RGA spokesman Mike Schrimpf. "Big labor is flooding the DGA with cash in an effort to buy the governor's race and expand union power."