Candidates Face Big Primaries With Smaller War Chests

Mitt Romney has already lent $17 million to his campaign and could lend much more.
Mitt Romney has already lent $17 million to his campaign and could lend much more. (By Lm Otero -- Associated Press)
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By Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

With their campaign treasuries running on empty and only weeks to attract support in the nearly two dozen states that will cast ballots on Feb. 5, candidates for president are scrambling to find creative and unorthodox ways to grab the attention of voters with the funds they have remaining.

At least two of the 2008 presidential contenders, seeking bang for their buck, have privately discussed bypassing a barrage of targeted local ads in favor of buying a spot with potentially more impact to run during the Feb. 3 Super Bowl broadcast, at a cost of about $2.7 million. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) yesterday became the first to make a nationwide cable television advertising buy, and several candidates were devoting resources to new methods of targeting absentee voters.

None of the campaigns has decided yet to take the Super Bowl gamble, but it is one of scores of spending possibilities presidential campaign strategists are considering as they approach the biggest day ever of primary voting.

The Republican field faces one additional challenge: the presence of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He is increasingly relying on his own fortune to fund his campaign and could ultimately invest as much as $50 million in his bid for the GOP nomination.

Even those who are expected to have plenty of money will be stretched thin; Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Obama each raised more than $100 million last year but have spent it at a furious rate. The Democratic front-runners both broke away from campaigning in advance of last Saturday's Nevada caucuses to attend fundraisers in California.

Democrats will hold contests in 22 states and one territory, with 1,681 delegates at stake. Republicans have scheduled contests in 21 states for Feb. 5, known as Super Tuesday, with 975 delegates at stake. Voters in early-voting states experienced a blizzard of commercials and mailboxes jammed with literature, but those living in delegate-rich California might reach Election Day with little contact from the presidential candidates.

Romney could be the exception. He has told supporters he will supplement individual donations with a sizable investment from his personal fortune. He lent his campaign $17 million from January to September of 2007, and some in his camp say they expect him to spend $40 million to $50 million on his effort to secure the nomination.

Tom Stemberg, a Romney donor and longtime supporter, said most people close to the candidate assume a shortfall in fundraising will not be what ends his quest. "I think it's the one thing you can count on," Stemberg said.

One top adviser to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the candidate recognizes that he will face a big financial disadvantage coming out of Florida's primary on Jan. 29.

"Romney has enormous resources to apply," the adviser said, speaking about internal campaign planning on the condition that he not be named. "While he may be able to compete everywhere, we've been hashing out a sort of hierarchy that looks tactically at where we choose to spend money."

McCain aides said that instead of relying on ads, he will schedule as many appearances as possible on national television shows, and he will try to capitalize on the momentum he earned from winning last Saturday's South Carolina primary.

Ken Mehlman, who helped plan President Bush's reelection strategy four years ago, said each campaign is trying to isolate demographic groups and geographic areas to target with phone calls and mail.

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