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.