A third possible candidate with strong establishment credentials, former Utah governor and China ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr., kicked off a fundraising trip through California last week in hopes of drumming up support for his own presidential bid. Huntsman also met in Maine with former president George H.W. Bush, who has granted audiences with several top candidates seeking help from the Bush family and its far-flung network of supporters.
The developments signal a new phase in the unsettled GOP presidential contest, after recent announcements by Daniels, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour that they would not seek the nomination. At the same time, a trio of insurgents — former senator Rick Santorum (Penn.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin — are jumping into the race or, in Palin’s case, sending fresh signals of a possible run.
The push for donors by Romney and Pawlenty is aimed in part at discouraging these emerging hopefuls, who have shown the ability to raise money in the past but whose financial prospects in the 2012 race are less clear. The candidates also are seeking to demonstrate their ability to take on President Obama, whose campaign is poised to meet or exceed the $750 million he raised in 2008.
The May 22 departure of Daniels, in particular, has set off a frenzy to line up support among the Indiana governor’s influential circle of friends, many of whom know him from his time as budget director in the George W. Bush administration. Dozens of “Pioneers,” “Rangers” and other prominent Bush bundlers have remained uncommitted for 2012.
The Daniels effect
Romney backers say Daniels’s decision is especially beneficial to Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and equity fund manager who shares close ties to many of the same corporate executives and Wall Street investors who would have been attracted to Daniels. Romney in recent years has raised nearly half of his money from the financial sector.
“We very much expect a number of Daniels’s supporters to come Romney’s way,” said Emil Henry Jr., a Bush-era Treasury Department official who is helping lead Romney’s fundraising efforts.
This early fundraising period also poses a crucial test for Pawlenty, a former Minnesota governor who so far has struggled to gather the financial resources needed to face Romney in a long primary fight. In a major fundraiser in Minneapolis last month, Pawlenty took in about $800,000; Romney, by contrast, raised $10.25 million in a single day during a telethon fundraiser in Las Vegas.