New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, one of Mitt Romney's top fundraisers and the chairman of his New York campaign, knows something about stiff competition. His football team competes in the same division as the perennial powerhouse New England Patriots, and he guided Romney's fundraising operation through a grueling primary season that drained many of its resources.
The spring battle was meant to be a mere dress rehearsal for the November war. Romney's finance team expected an historically tough test going up against President Obama's campaign, an outfit that some said could raise $1 billion for his reelection. But recently, the president's money machine has malfunctioned. Romney has easily out-raised Obama for three consecutive months, and in July, the president's campaign spent significantly more, $59 million, than it took in, $49 million.
In an interview with National Journal on the convention floor Thursday, Johnson touted Romney's fundraising superiority, and suggested that Obama's disproportionate spending-to-income ratio for July is a sign of an undisciplined finance operation. “You won't see that in the Romney campaign,” Johnson said, shaking his head. “You will not see that.”
Johnson said he can feel the momentum on his side, but he's not ready to celebrate. He allowed for a brief grin when reminded that Romney has out-raised Obama in each of the past three months. Then he shook away the smile, and reminded himself of the reality that rules this unprecedented era of high-dollar politics: a moneyman's work is never done.
“I'm never happy. I always want more,” Johnson said, just hours before Romney was set to accept the Republican presidential nomination. “We've got to be able to get his message out. As a fundraiser you're never really satisfied.”
He wants to keep an even keel, but Johnson can't hide his satisfaction with Romney's torrid fundraising pace in recent months. Back in May it was seen as a possible aberration when Romney and his friends at the Republican National Committee topped Obama and the Democratic National Committee for the first time, by a margin of roughly $17 million. But those doubts were dashed in June, when Romney and the RNC raised an historic $106 million -- destroying Obama, who together with the DNC raised $71 million for the month. July only reinforced the new conventional wisdom as it pertained to the money race: Romney and the RNC took in $101 million, compared to $75 million for Obama and the DNC.
With one day left in August, Johnson declined to disclose the Romney campaign's fundraising numbers for the month. But he hinted at another “extremely successful” fundraising report, which he partially attributed to the addition of Paul Ryan to the GOP ticket. “People were already excited about Romney, and then Paul Ryan came in,” Johnson said, noting the “enthusiasm” Ryan's selection generated among donors. Johnson also noted that Romney's vice presidential pick jolted his campaign's online fundraising operation. “It's just south of $15 million (raised online) since he got in,” Johnson said of Ryan. “So it's huge.”
Johnson gave much of the credit to National Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick, whom Johnson says “has really designed a system that works.” Thanks to Zwick's leadership, Johnson said, "This is the best-run fundraising operation I've ever been involved with."
Meanwhile, as Romney prepared to accept the GOP presidential nomination Thursday night -- formally kicking off the fall campaign against Obama -- Johnson had another contest on his mind: the Jets' preseason finale against the Philadelphia Eagles. “We're on at 6:30,” Johnson said, noting with some disappointment that he won't have the game televised in his suite at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. “But I'll get reports,” he said with a smile.
With his team and his candidate competing for Johnson's attention these days, the New York money-man makes no bones about his priorities. Asked to choose between a Jets' Super Bowl title and a Republican in the White House, Johnson answered without hesitation, “I'll take Romney winning the election.”