Intentionally or not, the Mitt Romney camp tricked the media into believing that it was having problems raising money. The press heard him put out the URL for a Web site that took donations, and the feeding frenzy began. Is he out of money? Will he self-finance?
Actually, he’s hauling in a huge amount of cash, and the entire story line was a figment of the group-think media’s collective imagination. The Associated Press reports that he raised $11.5 million in February, the second-highest one-month total to date. The campaign wouldn’t comment to me on the amount of cash on hand, but multiple advisers have reiterated that the Romney team is confident it can execute its national campaign game plan.
I suspect that the Romney team never intended to create the “he’s broke” story line, but with his opponents whining that he was trying to “buy” races, that wasn’t a good time to brag about the money haul. But it should tell us several things.
First, you can’t raise that kind of money if people think you are a failing candidate. I have written repeatedly that the media impression of Romney (unliked in the party, struggling) doesn’t match up with that of actual voters (presidential, presumptive nominee). This is more evidence that both the mainstream and conservative media have gotten much more wrong than they have right in this election.
Second, Romney has plenty of money to continue his national campaign. He can buy ads in Guam and New York. He can hire get-out-the-vote staffers in Missouri and Maryland. He can fly himself or fly surrogates anywhere to hunt for delegates in the out-of-the-way locales (e.g., Hawaii).
And finally, Rick Santorum’s perpetual claim that he is being badly outspent is not something to brag about. It suggests that his opponent has convinced donors that he’s the best bet to get the nomination. “Well if he had the money,” the Santorum supporters argue, “then he’d be cleaning up.” Puleez.
Yes, if Santorum hadn’t failed to get on the ballot in Virginia and the District of Columbia; hadn’t left 18 delegates on the table in Ohio; hadn’t spent two weeks on extreme social issues; and hadn’t neglected to put together a competent staff that could raise money (not to mention keep him on message and not let him wing important speeches), then he’d be doing a lot better! But he never did the things he needed to, and he isn’t putting together a presidential-level campaign. The more Santorum complains about the money gap, the warier donors may be to throw their money into the Santorum pot. After all, if so many people are giving to Romney, maybe he’s the guy, they figure.
Money isn’t the most important thing in politics. Ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) if you think otherwise. But it does reflect enthusiasm and confidence. Moreover, you have to have enough to run a nationwide race if you are going to play at the presidential level. Despite the Santorum spin, donors can count the wins and losses in these contests, and as a result, I suspect, the money gap will widen.