"I think Newt's support is more outside the Beltway than within the Beltway," said a GOP lobbyist who noted he had given the maximum to Gingrich's campaign — a donation that presumably was made after the close of the most recent public reporting period. "I think it's showing that outside the Beltway, his message is resonating."
Another lobbyist backing Gingrich accused K Street of being out of touch: "I believe that a lot of people in the city are not aware of what is happening with Newt and the country at the grass-roots level. I think there is a complete disconnect."
Still, the discipline and muscle behind Romney's national campaign operation has gradually won him friends on K Street as well. Romney has won chits for supporting GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in 2008 and for the generous, strategic donations from his national and state-based political action committees.
"I think he had built up a lot of goodwill amongst many of the party people, even tea party types, that he helped to get elected," said a GOP lobbyist who is a Romney supporter. "I think that has translated into some support here in D.C."
Lately, Romney's even been raiding Perry's Texas fundraising base, parachuting in for events in Dallas and Houston last week that were expected to bring in $1 million.
"Being governor of the state of Texas is not the same as being president of the United States," said Lawrence Finder, a former McCain bundler and partner at the law firm of Haynes & Boone, who estimates that he has now bundled about $20,000 for Romney.
As for Perry: He had two successful Washington fundraising events in October and a meeting with about 60 K Street insiders. But while Perry will be in Washington on Wednesday for a forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition, he has no fundraisers planned here in the coming weeks, a supporter said. Perry has increasingly cast himself as an outsider and made overhauling Washington a leading priority.
"I think in the end, most of the candidates will raise most of their money away from K Street, partly out of necessity, and partly out of calculation that they don't want to spend a whole lot of time at Washington, D.C., fundraising events," said John Pitney, a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College.
Still, some argue that Romney's K Street advantage, particularly over Gingrich, points to the erratic former Speaker's political liabilities.
"It will be important as the race narrows to have large groups of people who are deep in their policy knowledge, to bring the case [against] an administration who will have many experienced people on the inside," Malbin said. "When you get past the money, what you see is a potential governing team."