Romney’s competitors are having more success with small donors. CFI found that 48 percent of Santorum’s money, 46 percent of Gingrich’s money, and 39 percent of Ron Paul’s money has come from people who gave less than $200. Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, has put causes that galvanize the conservative base, like abortion and gay marriage, at the center of his campaign.
“While the establishment has hedged their bets with big checks to Romney, thousands of grassroots activists are backing Santorum with small gifts from all over the country,” said John Stemberger, president of the Florida Family Policy Council, which advocates conservative Christian values. “It’s their way of saying, ‘We are with you Rick!’ ”
Obama is using one of his trademark strategies from his last campaign, in which he asks people to donate a negligible amount of money. That’s followed by more financial appeals, solicitations to become a volunteer, and pleas to recruit new supporters—all aimed at building the contributor’s investment over time and allowing the campaign to continue to draw on an ever-increasing donor pool.
The latest offer invites a supporter to donate as little as $2 to be entered in a drawing to have dinner with the president and three other supporters. “You’d be crazy not to at least give this a shot,” says the e-mail from Obama’s national finance director.
The Romney campaign declined to discuss its fundraising strategy but said it expected to be outgunned by a sitting president and contended that it would have enough money to compete in the general election. By the end of January, Romney had raised $62.7 million and spent $55 million, leaving him with about $7.7 million. A super PAC bankrolled by his allies has an additional $16 million to spend on his behalf. All of that has left Romney in much better financial shape than McCain was at this point four years ago.
As for Romney’s grassroots network, campaign spokesman Williams said that although the campaign had closed its field offices in states that already voted, it was staying in contact with supporters there. The campaign collected tens of thousands of signatures to qualify for the ballot in a slew of states, including battlegrounds such as Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and of course, Virginia.
“We’re the only candidate running a true national campaign, competitive in all 50 states,” Williams said. “We feel that the time and effort we’re investing in these states during the Republican nominating process is laying a strong foundation for a formidable general election.”
Williams added that the campaign was encouraging volunteers to make calls on its behalf from home, “lessening the need for brick-and-mortar offices.” For example, he said, Romney opened 11 offices before the Florida primary in 2008, and only half as many this year.
“We realize the president is going to have a formidable political machine and raise a significant amount of money, but we’re confident that Governor Romney will have the organization to go toe-to-toe,” Williams said. “That’s why he’s the strongest candidate against the president.”
In Virginia, Republican activists backing Romney say they aren’t worried about being behind the curve. A marquee Senate race between former Sen. George Allen and former Gov. Tim Kaine is already stirring up the electorate. But the absence of the Santorum and Gingrich campaigns discourages Romney and Ron Paul from investing time and money in the state.
“In the broader sense, we are at a disadvantage because we still have interparty contests in other states,” said Linwood Cobb, chairman of the GOP committee in the 7th Congressional District in the Richmond area. “I think Romney can accomplish a primary victory without a lot of field offices. It’s a little bit early to pull the trigger.”
AS IOWA GOES …
Romney may not need a more formidable campaign apparatus to win, his supporters say. Consider Iowa, a state that Obama won by nearly 10 percentage points in 2008.
The Democratic edge in voter registration of more than 100,000 as of the 2008 election has dwindled to about 4,000. Iowa Republicans are optimistic about closing the gap under the leadership of the new state party chairman, A. J. Spiker, a leading Ron Paul supporter. The latest Des Moines Register poll shows Obama trailing all of the Republican contenders except for Gingrich. The president’s disapproval rating stands at 48 percent. And it’s one state where GOP voters have been motivated: Turnout in the Republican caucus on Jan. 3 was the largest in history.
A former chairman of the Iowa Republican Party, Steve Grubbs, said that 1,600 new Republican voters registered for the caucus in his home county, the third largest in the state. The GOP’s not-so-secret weapon: the incumbent.
“There’s an underlying issue motivating people to participate in the process,” he said. “The way that President Obama motivates our base bodes well for the general election.”
Still, other Iowa Republicans are worried about the level of grassroots enthusiasm, especially among the most conservative activists, if Romney is the nominee. Steve Scheffler, president of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, frequently criticized Romney for investing little time in the state before the caucuses.
“He did everything but thumb his nose at the conservative wing of the party, and that’s where most of the volunteers will come from in the general election, I guarantee it,” he said. “They haven’t done their homework. But if Romney is the nominee, I will get in the position where I can get motivated. Another four years of Barack Obama is unthinkable.”
This article appears in the March 3, 2012, edition of National Journal.