You might expect it to be high-fiving time in the Mitt Romney camp today. What was maybe the biggest threat to the former Massachusetts governor’s nomination vanished today when New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie decided not to enter the primary. But in a series of phone calls with Romney advisers and supporters, it was business-as-usual.
Perhaps that isn’t surprising. This group didn’t get rattled when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) zoomed to the top of the polls or when Texas Gov. Rick Perry did the same. If anything defines the Romney campaign, it is its single-minded, methodical operation. Today the focus wasn’t on Christie, but on Romney’s big foreign policy speech this Friday.
The only thing that may have taken the Romney crowd by surprise, as one put it, is the “speed at which” Perry descended from his lofty heights. One adviser expressed skepticism that Perry could refurbish himself or his campaign. “It’s like a 61 year-old bachelor saying he’ll change, said one.” Another Romney adviser observed, “A campaign is a reflection of the guy at the top.” In Perry’s case, that means it is is light on policy and preparation and reactive in its communications style.
The most immediate impact of Christie’s decision not to run may be on the money side. A fundraiser who only recently decided to jump on the Romney team emailed me, “[ It’s] anecdotal so far but yes, I think more donors will come over to Romney now. And the Romney operation is so professional that they will capitalize on this quickly. The choice for Republicans now is now Mr. Durable versus Mr. New Problem Every Day. Donors don’t like the latter.” The Romney team until now has stayed out of New Jersey and ha had to contend with many fence-sitters. Those barriers to raising more cash will begin to disappear.
Reports that Perry’s fundraising may clock in at $15 million raised some eyebrows in the Romney camp. That total would be less than Romney’s first period ($18 million) and rather low for the man touted as an impresario of fundraising for the RGA. Perhaps, one Romney team member speculated, he’s not that adept at campaigning under federal rules which, unlike Texas rules, don’t allow a single donor to write a jumbo check. (Perry’s poor showing in the debates and polls may also hurt his PAC, which will find it increasingly hard to get six-figure checks out of donors who consider such amounts “investments.” In Perry’s case, that would be a risky one at this point.)
As for Herman Cain, it is far from clear that he can make the leap from interesting new face to serious national contender. As of now, Cain lacks the staff, money and supporters on the ground to go toe-to-toe with Romney in early primary states. However, the Romney team is not dismissing him. One senior adviser posited, “In many ways he is a better fit for the Tea Party than Perry. He’s a businessman.” And, of course, Cain has a tough-line approach to illegal immigration, which has become a sore point with voters who take issue with Perry’s in-state tuition break for children of illegal immigrants.
The critical events coming up are two debates on October 15 and 18. If Perry is to revive himself or Cain is to solidify his support, the anti-Romney competitors will have to take down him down a peg. And you can bet, Romney will be ready and waiting. That’s been the key to his success and I see no indication anyone in his camp thinks that should change.