- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2012

In outspending former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich en route to the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney proved he knows how to reel in big-cash backers. But if he hopes to go toe-to-toe this fall with President Obama, the former Massachusetts governor needs to show he can fish for small-dollar donors, too.

“Now that the race [is] a two-person contest, Mr. Romney ought to be able to bring more small donors in,” said Michael J. Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute (CFI), a Washington-based think tank. “But to do so, some things will have to change. He will have to gain more passionate support or more committed support as opposed to respect. He will have to make a real effort to find these people and go after them. This campaign at several points has said that it was doing so, but we do not see much evidence of that.”

Even if Mr. Romney goes after smaller fish, it’s not clear the GOP rank and file are eager to hop into the presumptive nominee’s net.

“Not unless I’m struck by a lightning bolt from on high,” said Emma P. Routh from Franklinville, N.C., who fired off a $100 check to Mr. Santorum in March, weeks before the former senator from Pennsylvania dropped out of the race. She said it might take divine intervention to get her to send a similar check to Mr. Romney.

“If God speaks out loud, I might. I’m not very enthusiastic about Romney. I’m sort of at the point where I’m going to have to hold my breath while I go to the polls,” she said.

Mark Robinson, a pastor in Galesburg, Ill., who describes himself as “one of those radical religious folk,” said it’s “very important to me to have a bedrock candidate that makes decisions based on conscience rather than political winds.”

Mr. Santorum met that criteria, but the pastor is not sure about Mr. Romney. Those doubts mean he expects to donate to Mr. Romney “only 20 percent of what I would have done with Santorum.”

“I like to think that Romney’s religious heritage would lend itself to more conviction,” he said. “I’m just not sure at this point. Although, being scared of Obama’s convictions, maybe I should be more excited about supporting the middle ground over the worst.”

Need for grass-roots greenbacks

Mr. Romney’s Federal Election Commission filings document the campaign’s difficulties with small-dollar donors like Mr. Robinson and Ms. Routh.

Donations through the end of March show the campaign still depends heavily on large contributors. Sixty-four percent of Mr. Romney’s funds come from donors who’ve given the maximum legal amount of $2,500, according to a CFI breakdown.

Craig Shirley, a conservative author and GOP strategist, said that has to change.

“If you are not getting small donors, you are not getting intensity because that is what the small donor represents,” Mr. Shirley said. “The fact that somebody is going to vote for you is one thing, but if they are willing to pick up the checkbook and write you a check for $25 means they are making an investment in a campaign, which means by definition they are going to do other things for that campaign.”

‘Why would we give him money?’

A random survey of Santorum and Gingrich donors found that Mr. Romney has his work cut out for him if he expects to bring them aboard.

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