Marathon GOP race strains Rom­ney cof­fers

Front-run­ner trims ex­penses, re­lies more on me­dia cov­er­age

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY STEVE PEO­PLES

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO | The long and in­creas­ingly messy Re­pub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nat­ing con­test is start­ing to hit Mitt Rom­ney where it hurts most: his wal­let.

New signs of fi­nan­cial stress are emerg­ing in the Rom­ney cam­paign, which has built a wide lead in del­e­gates, thanks in part to the might of his bank ac­count and mul­ti­state op­er­a­tion.

As ri­val Rick San­to­rum’s sur­pris­ing strength keeps ex­tend­ing the nom­i­na­tion bat­tle, Mr. Rom­ney has scaled back ex­penses, trimmed field staff in some cases and be­gun to count more on free me­dia cov­er­age to reach vot­ers. And he’s still re­ly­ing on Su­per PAC al­lies to sup­ple­ment his spend­ing on ex­pen­sive TV ads.

This week, the for­mer Mas­sachusetts gov­er­nor was forced to spend two days pri­vately court­ing donors in the New York area, even as his Re­pub­li­can ri­vals were woo­ing vot­ers ahead of piv­otal elec­tions in places like Illi­nois, where he hasn’t been in four months.

On Wed­nes­day, Mr. Rom­ney had five fi­nance events in New York, all packed, rais­ing about $3 mil­lion, with more set for Thurs­day. So the news is hardly all bad. Wed­nes­day “was the best day we’ve had so far,” said New York Jets owner Woody John­son, who ac­com­pa­nied Mr. Rom­ney to mul­ti­ple events, in­clud­ing a donor break­fast in New York.

But it’s less en­cour­ag­ing for the cam­paign that the money is badly needed to re­fill cof­fers that had sunk close to their low­est lev­els since Mr. Rom­ney launched his pres­i­den­tial ef­fort last year.

It’s un­clear whether he will tap his own per­sonal wealth.

The for­mer fi­nan­cial ex­ec­u­tive, whose per­sonal wealth is es­ti­mated be­tween $190 mil­lion and $250 mil­lion, loaned his 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign $42 mil­lion. Top aide Eric Fehrn­strom says Mr. Rom­ney has not loaned his cam­paign any new funds this cy­cle and has “no plans” to do so.

Rais­ing money to get through a pro­tracted pri­mary fight is clearly not how Mr. Rom­ney wanted to be spend­ing his spring. He had hoped to have wrapped up the nom­i­na­tion by now, giv­ing him the free­dom to raise money for the gen­eral elec­tion against Mr. Obama, who doesn’t have a pri­mary chal­lenge and al­ready is well into run­ning for re­elec­tion.

As Mr. Rom­ney reloads, Mr. San­to­rum, is show­cas­ing new fundrais­ing suc­cess. The once-lop­sided money race be­tween the two lead­ing Re­pub­li­can can­di­dates has never been closer. While Mr. Rom­ney boasted his sec­ond-best fundrais­ing month ever in Fe­bru­ary, tak­ing in $11.5 mil­lion. Mr. San­to­rum, who has a vastly smaller or­ga­ni­za­tion to sup­port, wasn’t far off, with $9 mil­lion.

For months, the for­mer Penn­syl­va­nia se­na­tor’s cam­paign was marked by dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion and a shoe­string op­er­a­tion that largely de­pended upon pas­sion­ate but in­ex­pe­ri­enced vol­un­teers. Mr. San­to­rum has fi­nally opened a na­tional head­quar­ters to re­place the post of­fice box that pre­vi­ously served that role. And he’s added sev­eral paid staff.

Rom­ney aides ac­knowl­edge they’re look­ing at ways to re­duce costs.

The cam­paign stopped con­duct­ing ex­pen­sive polling ahead of the Michi­gan pri­mary. In­stead, it now counts on lower-cost voter-id phone calls, which aides con­tend are nearly as ac­cu­rate as in­ter­nal polls. Mr. Rom­ney also stopped us­ing the 150-seat plane that could ac­com­mo­date the press af­ter Su­per Tues­day and is in­stead fly­ing with a small group of aides and Se­cret Ser­vice agents on a smaller and cheaper air­craft.

Fur­ther, his staff is purs­ing what it calls creative ways to max­i­mize free tele­vi­sion cov­er­age to sup­ple­ment a flood of paid tele­vi­sion ad­ver­tis­ing. Mr. Rom­ney no­ti­fied lo­cal me­dia, for ex­am­ple, that he’s sched­uled to ar­rive at the San Juan air­port Fri­day at 2:30 p.m., although there are no for­mal re­marks or events planned for that time. That’s not typ­i­cal for the but­toned-down cam­paign with the tightly con­trolled me­dia sched­ule.

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