Thursday, January 24, 2008

Mitt's Money: Romney's Wallet Keeps Him in the Race

Today's Wall Street Journal reports that Mitt Romney's personal wealth is sustaining his otherwise marginal campaign:

Mitt Romney lost three of the first five big Republican contests and lags behind in most major state and national polls. Yet he is still widely seen as a credible contender for the nomination thanks mainly to one trait: his wallet.

A senior aide to Mr. Romney says the millionaire investor plans to spend as much as $40 million in the campaign. Mr. Romney spent $17.4 million of his own money on his campaign through the third quarter of last year, according to the Federal Election Commission.

By comparison, Arizona Sen. John McCain raised a total of $31.4 million in individual donations during the same period. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee raised $2.3 million.

At a time when some campaigns are running dangerously low on funds, Mr. Romney's ability to self-finance will make it difficult to count him out of the race until the very end.

"At the end of the day, he doesn't have to worry about the things that other people have to worry about," said Ed Rollins, a senior adviser to Mr. Huckabee who recently agreed to forgo his $25,000 monthly paycheck because the campaign was running out of money. "He just goes to his ATM machine and pulls out whatever he needs."

"Each of us runs our campaign the best way we know how," Mr. Romney responded yesterday, "given, if you will, the cards we were dealt."

Mr. Romney's use of his wealth doesn't seem to bother Republican voters. "I think he's fortunate," said Freeman Healy, an 85-year-old retiree who lives in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

Mr. Healy hasn't decided between Messrs. Romney, McCain or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but he, like many other Florida residents, said Mr. Romney's wealth wouldn't be a concern. "He's worked hard and he earned it," he said.

Mr. Romney, who is reportedly worth at least $250 million, is certainly not the first, or the largest, self-financing politician. Ross Perot spent a combined $71 million in his pair of bids for the Oval Office in 1992 and 1996. Steve Forbes gave $76 million of his own money during two unsuccessful bids for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996 and 2000. And the White House isn't the only prize that prompted others to dig deep in their pockets. Jon Corzine, the former head of Goldman Sachs and Democratic governor of New Jersey, spent more than $60 million on his successful U.S. senate race in 2000.

For presidential hopefuls, money matters most during the primary season - as a rule, it's easier to get donations during the general election - and never more than this cycle. The front-loaded schedule leaves little time for victors of key states to hold fund-raisers and cash-in on their winnings. Feb. 5, known as Super Tuesday, will be the toughest time of all, with the candidates trying to hit as many of the 21 states holding Republican contests as possible. Each contender needs millions of dollars just to stay viable.

Also today, the New York Times reports that Romney's not well liked along the campaign trail among the other top contenders for the GOP nomination:

At the end of the Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire this month, when the Democrats joined the candidates on stage, Mitt Romney found himself momentarily alone as his counterparts mingled, looking around a bit stiffly for a companion.

The moment was emblematic of a broader reality that has helped shape the Republican contest and could take center stage again on Thursday at a debate in Florida. Within the small circle of contenders, Mr. Romney has become the most disliked.

With so much attention recently on the sniping between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side, the almost visceral scorn directed at Mr. Romney by his rivals has been overshadowed.

“Never get into a wrestling match with a pig,” Senator John McCain said in New Hampshire this month after reporters asked him about Mr. Romney. “You both get dirty, and the pig likes it.”

Mike Huckabee’s pugilistic campaign chairman, Ed Rollins, appeared to stop just short of threatening Mr. Romney with physical violence at one point.

“What I have to do is make sure that my anger with a guy like Romney, whose teeth I want to knock out, doesn’t get in the way of my thought process,” Mr. Rollins said.

Campaign insiders and outside strategists point to several factors driving the ill will, most notably, Mr. Romney’s attacks on opponents in television commercials, the perception of him as an ideological panderer and resentment about his seemingly unlimited resources as others have struggled to raise cash.
Romney's money could be a decisive factor if he wins the Florida GOP primary on January 29. He could, with a win, combine his massive personal wealth with a rush of "earned media" time that comes free of charge with the momentum of campaign victory.

As I've said all along, this year's an amazingly interesting race.

The hope of many, of course, is for the Republicans to unify around a strong party standard-bearer, which would position the GOP to be more competitive against the Democratic nominee in November.