Mitt Romney has been raising money like it’s his job.
The announcement that he raised a stunning $106 million in June offer a glimpse at the fruit of what’s been a single-minded focus for the Republican nominee. And Romney hasn’t been able to rely on either the Republican Establishment connections that underwrote the last Republican nominee, George W. Bush; or the personal adoration that helped Barack Obama raise money in 2008.
But Romney has invested the bulk of what is any campaign’s main resource — the candidate’s time — in the race for cash. He’s put to use a skill set honed in a career spent asking rich people for money for three major causes. And he’s shadowed by the failure of his predecessor, John McCain, to keep pace with Obama.
“Romney learned the lesson from that and started raising money and crushed his primary opponents with money,” said a senior Republican official, who added that he’s a particularly effective messenger to business leaders. “He understands the economy, money, the role it plays, and entrepreneurialism — this isn’t just some rich guy.”
Romney’s schedule offers the clearest glimpse of his priorities. One Midwestern swing aside, Romney has spent the summer largely eschewing swing states for the solidly red and solidly blue precincts of the ultra-rich: He spent a couple of hot June days in Texas, and swung through irreparably Democratic Oregon and Washington. He weekended in Utah, which last voted for a Democat in 1964. He departed his New Hampshire vacation last week for the Hamptons, playground of the New York rich, and heads later this week to fundraisers in the resort country of Montana and Wyoming.
Romney also has a depth of fundraising experience often neglected in recounting his biography as a private equity titan and Olympic Committee. Both of those posts are, at their core, about asking for money from wealthy people, and Romney by all accounts excelled at both.
The post of Bain Capital chief executive “was a fundraising job in the sense that a lot of what Romney did was, all the way through his tenure there, was to go out and pitch the various funds that Bain Capital put together to potential investors, both institutions and individuals,” said Walter Keichel, the author of The Lords of Strategy, a detailed study of Bain Consulting and other firms.
“He wasn’t that involved necessarily in the day to day running of the businesses that Bain Capital acquired,” Kiechel said. “He was spending more of his time, as you would expect from the head of a private equity firm, on the road raising money.”
Romney’s next high-profile post was, too, fundamentally a fundraising job. Saving the Salt Lake City Olympics was in part a matter of morale and of cleaning house after a scandal — but it was at its core about bringing in private and public money to get the games paid for. He turned a potential debacle into a rare financial success, leaving the games' operating committee with a $40 million surplus, which was put toward maintaining the athletic venues built for the games.
Romney’s roles as a lay leader in the Mormon Church, too, were deeply tied to fundraising — he raised, and donated, large sums to build a grand temple in the Boston suburbs — and some of the skills he learned as a missionary, he reportedly applied to fundraising from an early age.
“Elected its president his senior year, Mr. Romney applied the motivational skills he learned in France to lead a telethon that raised $1 million,” the New York Times reported.
“Romney's strength is that he is an inspirational leader,” said a former Romney aide. “Remember, he is the sales guy, the guy who raised the $30 million to start Bain Capital. He did this kind of thing in the business world, very effectively.”
The secret, the former aide said: “He is tremendously disciplined. He doesn't drink, cuss, or drink caffeine, much less indulge in any other of your bad habits. Discipline is key for fundraising.”
Some Republicans worry that the intense focus on fundraising may get in the way of the candidate message. Romney has avoided engaging Obama’s attacks on elements of his business career in ways that might involve criticizing, for instance, other forms of outsourcing or offshoring, but has instead defended capitalism in broad strokes — a strategy that may appeal more to his donors than to the general public.
But Romney is, in his fundraising skill, an ideal nominee for a party still traumatized by how badly outspent John McCain was in 2008, his staff spending much of the final days making hard triage decisions over which state to abandon for lack of cash.
Some Republicans worry that the intense focus on fundraising has cost Romney’s message this summer: He has chosen to not to engage in arguments over outsourcing and sending jobs abroad in ways that would be critical of those practices, for instance.
But that may be a small downside to the flood of cash.
“When you compare the Romney campaign's fundraising organization and success to the comparatively haphazard efforts of the McCain campaign it is stunning,” said Curt Anderson, a Republican consultant who worked for the RNC in 2008 and for Governor Rick Perry this year. “I just do not buy the notion that there is any downside.”
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
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