Romney campaign shows financial strains

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 11:50 AM

Steve Peoples

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The long and increasingly messy Republican presidential contest is starting to hit Mitt Romney where it hurts most: his wallet.

New signs of financial stress are emerging in Romney’s campaign, which has built a wide lead in delegates thanks in part to the might of his bank account and multistate operation. As rival Rick Santorum’s surprising strength keeps extending the nomination battle, Romney has scaled back expenses, trimmed field staff in some cases and begun to count more on free media coverage to reach voters. And he’s still relying on an allied super political action committee to supplement his spending on expensive TV ads.

This week, the former Massachusetts governor was forced to spend two days privately courting donors in the New York area, even as his Republican rivals were wooing voters ahead of pivotal elections in places like Illinois, where he hasn’t been in four months, and as President Barack Obama was stockpiling cash for the fall election fight.

On Wednesday, Romney had five finance events in New York, all packed, raising about $3 million. So the news is hardly all bad. Wednesday "was the best day we’ve had so far," said New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, who accompanied Romney to multiple events, including a donor breakfast in New York City.

But it’s less encouraging for the campaign that the money is badly needed to refill coffers that had sunk close to their lowest levels since Romney launched his presidential effort last year.

It’s unclear if he will tap his own personal wealth.

The former financial executive, whose personal wealth is estimated at between $190 million and $250 million, loaned his 2008 presidential campaign $42 million. Top aide Eric Fehrnstrom said Romney has not loaned his campaign any new funds this cycle and has "no plans" to do so.

Raising money to get through a protracted primary fight is clearly not how Romney wanted to be spending his spring. He had hoped to have wrapped up the nomination by now, giving him the freedom to raise money for the general election against Obama. The incumbent Democrat doesn’t have a primary challenge and already is well into running for re-election. He’s spending 14 hours today raising money; the biggest event is to be with actor/director Tyler Perry and musician Cee Lo Green in Atlanta.

As Romney reloads for his GOP fight, his chief Republican rival, Santorum, is showcasing new fundraising success. The once-lopsided money race between the top two Republican candidates has never been closer.

For the month of February, Romney boasted his second-best fundraising month ever, taking in $11.5 million. Santorum, who has a vastly smaller organization to support, wasn’t far off, with $9 million.

For months, the former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign was marked by disorganization and a shoestring operation that largely depended on passionate but inexperienced volunteers. Santorum has finally opened a national headquarters to replace the post office box that previously served that role.

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