Despite fundraising success, Romney still needs Gingrich — for now

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ANALYSIS:

While critics and rivals argue that Mitt Romney is trying to buy the Republican presidential nomination by outspending opponents many times over, the former Massachusetts governor’s backers say the campaign that chalked up six wins on Tuesday is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do — and doing it better than the other guys.

Romney supporters say their candidate’s fundraising success, rather than being a negative, should send a message about Mr. Romney’s ability to maximize both traditional campaign donations, which are limited to $2,500 per person, and the turbocharged stream of dollars flowing into the 2012 race from super PACs.

And while the Super Tuesday wins are evidence of Mr. Romney’s advantages in campaign organization, they also offer a glimpse of the candidate’s strategy: Use superior campaign infrastructure to build on support in high-density, urban-suburban areas that are normally Democratic strongholds.

Having shown that he could turn his 59-point economic blueprint into a six-word slogan — “More jobs, less debt and small government” — and swipe Newt Gingrich’s focus on American energy independence, look for Mr. Romney to commandeer the discussion about the Obama administration’s threat to religious liberty, backers said.

It’s an issue, they said, Mr. Romney can exploit without getting bogged down, like former Sen. Rick Santorum, in the losing fight over contraception.

The Romney camp plans to stretch his already considerable lead over rivals in the recruitment of surrogates, pointing out to skeptics that Republicans who were considered potential standard-bearers — including the governors of New Jersey and Virginia and even real-estate mogul Donald Trump — have come over to his side.

The Romney team plans to play up the endorsement of constitutional law attorney Jim Bopp Jr., a social conservative and Republican National Committee member from Indiana who founded the Republican National Conservative Caucus.

Mr. Bopp will be presented as the high-achieving antidote to the threat posed by Mr. Santorum, who is running as the magnet for blue-collar Reagan Democrats and social and religious conservatives.

Based on the GOP’s calendar of remaining primaries and caucuses, the Romney campaign is girding for possible losses in three of the coming eight contests in the next two weeks.

The problem for Mr. Romney is that his wins are likely to be in the small island territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, as well as the small-population state of Hawaii, while the potential losses are the big states of Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi.

Debates — whether to participate or sit them out — is also a looming question.

The governor’s supporters say his performances in the string of Republican debates served him well — especially in Florida, where he won the state’s Jan. 31 primary. And his performance in the Arizona debate helped him close a double-digit deficit and eventually pass Mr. Santorum to win in Michigan.

But debates have served two of his three rivals well, too. The faceoffs fueled both of Mr. Gingrich’s resurrections from the ashes of his own stalled-out campaign. With Mr. Gingrich’s single victory in Georgia on Super Tuesday, the former House speaker will be counting on a March 19 debate in Portland, Ore., to spark yet another comeback.

Ironically, a good performance by Mr. Gingrich may be just what the Romney campaign would order. The longer Mr. Gingrich stays in the fray, the less chance for the “anybody-but-Romney” crowd to coalesce around Mr. Santorum.

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About the Author
Ralph Z. Hallow

Ralph Z. Hallow

Chief political writer Ralph Z. Hallow served on the Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Washington Times editorial boards, was Ford Foundation Fellow in Urban Journalism at Northwestern University, resident at Columbia University Editorial-Page Editors Seminar and has filed from Berlin, Bonn, London, Paris, Geneva, Vienna, Amman, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Belgrade, Bucharest, Panama and Guatemala.

 

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