Marathon GOP race strains Romney coffers
Front-runner trims expenses, relies more on media coverage
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.