Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mitt's Real Mormon Problem

Mitt Romney has a Mormon problem, and it’s not just that Mormonism doesn’t play well with Evangelicals. Even with John McCain’s campaign in meltdown mode, Romney still trails McCain in national polls. That’s OK for the Romney camp, which is betting that strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire will generate enough momentum going into Super-Duper-Mega-Tuesday next February to give their guy a real shot at the nomination.

But presidential campaigns run on money, and everyone in the political business knows it. MSM pundits have been positively giddy over the ability of the field of Democratic presidential hopefuls to whomp tail on their GOP counterparts when it comes to fundraising. Perversely, McCain’s present difficulties stem in no small part from the success of his own campaign finance reform legislation.

It is in this arena of campaign finances that Romney has a Mormon problem. The DNews reported yesterday that Romney has already raised $3.8 million from more than 3600 Utahns, and that he hopes to soon raise another $2 million in Utah. Six of Romney’s top 10 fundraising states have sizeable LDS populations.

It must be stipulated that no one has any reliable figures on how many of Romney’s donors are Mormons or how much Mormons have donated to the Romney campaign. The figures presented lead to the assumption that a lot of Romney’s money comes from members of the LDS Church. When coupled with the money Romney has legally donated to his own campaign, it would seem that over half of his campaign funds have come from Mormons.

Assuming that the assumption mentioned above is correct, this means that a significant number of Mormons are very supportive of Romney’s candidacy. In Utah, Romney has raised more than eight times the amount raised by all other presidential candidates (from all parties) combined. (Interestingly, John Edwards came in third place and Hillary Clinton came in fifth.)

But this also means that Romney’s base is too narrow. He’s got a number of Mormons excited about his candidacy, but most Americans that will vote Republican in the presidential primaries next year know absolutely nothing about Romney at this point. If Romney hopes to have a chance of appealing to GOP voters across the nation, he’s going to have to broaden his fundraising base. He’s going to have to generate some excitement outside of the LDS community.

Romney has some important supporters in Congress, but the DNews reported today that only 25% of Mormon members of Congress currently support Romney. The assumption that most of Romney’s campaign money supposedly comes from Mormons has led some to falsely assume that most American Mormons support Romney on the basis of their shared religious faith. I know of no reliable poll that validates this assumption.

It should be noted that when Orrin Hatch ran for president, he found very few Mormons that were willing to contribute to his campaign, despite their shared religion. Utahns may find Romney’s successful management of the once-troubled 2002 Winter Olympics to be a more important factor than his religion. Although more than 60% of Utahns are Mormon, it does not necessarily follow that most of Romney’s Utah donors are Mormon. And 3600 donors in a state with a population of 2.5 million does not necessarily imply a groundswell of support among Utahns in general.

It is by no means certain that Romney’s campaign strategy will work out. Performing well in Iowa has not always resulted in successfully catapulting a candidate into a primary-winning trajectory. Romney seems to be putting too many eggs in a single basket. He may be expecting other GOP front runners to implode at some point. That strategy seems to be working as far as McCain is concerned, but it may not work for others.

Rudy Giuliani is likely to have more success by focusing on Florida than Romney will have with his Iowa focus. Florida has a large population, including a significant number of New York ex-pats. (Florida is #4 in population. Iowa is #30. Florida’s population is about six times that of Iowa.) I’m still watching to see how well Fred Thompson’s strategy of playing the role of the titillating mystery candidate works for him. It’s no accident that he’s staying aloof and dancing around an actual announcement that he’s running.

Feel free to disagree with me, but my gut feeling is that Romney is angling for the VP slot. With the fickleness of the politics involved in a nominee’s selection of a running mate, this strategy is also fraught with risk. Either way, Romney needs to expand his support base if he wants to have a serious shot at either the top or second slot.


Democracy Lover said...

I suspect that being a Mormon is only one of many problems Romney has. It would be hard for the Republicans to nominate a flip-flopper after the campaign they ran in 2004.

I don't really share your enthusiasm for the strategy horse race. The amazing thing about this race is that with 20 people running between the 2 parties, there's not an outstanding leader among them. The 2 or 3 that really have interesting and well thought out positions on the issues are already counted out since they can't raise the money needed.

It's a sad state of affairs when a nation this large can't come up with a strong, intelligent, able statesman to run for the highest office in the land.

Jess said...

"but most Americans that will vote Republican in the presidential primaries next year know absolutely nothing about Romney at this point."

is that just your opinion? or are you stating a fact that you can attribute?

i am not sure that's a true statement. i think all voting republicans know romney is, at the very least, a mormon. to say they know absolutely nothing is a falsehood...

David said...

It's been a while since I last heard the "Romney's running for VP" theory. A year ago that idea sounded interesting to me, but not now.

Regardless of whether I think Romney would be a good choice, or a likely choice for VP (and those are two entirely different questions) I am confident that VP is not his goal. His campaign is quite clearly aiming for the top spot.

Reach Upward said...

DL, I'm sorry if I came across as enthusiastic for the horse race. I'm merely making an observation. My thoughts were triggered by two recent news stories. I agree with your assessment that none of the 20 candidates are very satisfactory leaders.

Jess, while most Republicans have heard of Mitt Romney, recent polls show that nationwide, more than half say they really know nothing about him other than his name. And a lot of that is simply because they have heard Jay Lenno make fun of his name. Many GOP voters don't know, for example, that he was governor of MA. Many can't tell you anything about his positions. (He has just the opposite problem -- he has had too many positions.) With as much as it's been in the news, you'd think that most GOP voters would know that Romney is Mormon, but even that is not the case. The fact is that most voters are not political junkies and are not even tuned into the presidential race at this point.

David, I wouldn't completely discount the idea of Romney shooting for VP. It's most likely that this is a fall-back option that he is keeping open.

Jess said...

thanks for the response. i like your argument.

do you think people are turned off by the election because coverage has started so early? or do you think they just don't give a damn?

Reach Upward said...

I think it's a combination of those issues. Most people simply don't see how this affects them at the moment. It is irrelevant to them. They are busy with their lives.

Traditionally, this stage has been handled by party insiders, grassroots politicos, and political junkies. It hasn't been the stuff of national news.

The average person tunes out or pays only nominal attention to national news items that don't seem to directly impact them and/or that don't have strong emotional appeal. In fact, nowadays most people zone out on national news altogether until some item forces its way into their life routine.

It's kind of like how TV advertisers do increasingly outlandish things to get people's attention. People might see TV ads, but unless they're innovative they simply tune them out. Studies show that after watching commercials, people often can't remember what was advertised or who was promoting it. They see it, but they don't log it into their consciousness, either because it seems irrelevant or because they are already overloaded with similar communications. I think political burn out works similarly.

Experts disagree on why the '08 race has become a significant staple of daily national news. There may be multiple causes. Certainly, one of them is that states have been competing with each other to gain more power in the presidential primaries by pushing their primary election dates earlier in the cycle. It is to the point where more than 50% of the U.S. population will vote on a single day in February 2008. It is a de facto national primary election. News coverage may have increased in response to that.

Another reason might be the lack of enthusiasm for President Bush and his policies. Many people in both parties are looking longingly toward the end of his term. This might feed into the media focus on the '08 election as well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. I wonder what percentage of registered Republicans in Iowa are Mormon? There is probably no way of knowing for sure, but there might be some Iowa pundit out there who could make an educated guess.