Political Intelligence

Mitt Romney enters campaign’s final months with big edge in donations over President Obama

Mitt Romney arrived at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, on his way to fund-raising events in Texas.
Mitt Romney arrived at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, on his way to fund-raising events in Texas.Credit: Evan Vucci/associated press

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney is heading into the final three months of the campaign with far more cash at his disposal than a sitting president known for his fund-raising prowess, a scenario that presents the Republican’s Boston-based campaign with a series of strategic and tactical opportunities that could provide a crucial difference as he enters the final stretch of a race expected to be razor-close.

The growing financial advantage, one that would have been hard to predict several months ago, comes after months of hoarding money as President Obama’s campaign spent heavily on television ads trying to brand Romney early in the minds of voters.

But with a race that still appears tight, Romney’s campaign is now enjoying some of the rewards of withholding its money while being outspent — by about a 3-to-1 ratio — by the Obama campaign through the summer months.

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“That will be over soon,” said Stuart Stevens, a Romney senior adviser. “And the playing field will be more level.”

For three consecutive months Romney and the Republican Party have far outraised Obama and the Democrats, even as they spend much less.

Romney and his party started August with $186 million cash on hand, compared with $127 million for Obama and his party, according to new fund-raising reports released this week.

Unlike Obama, Romney seems to have been stockpiling money for the intense final months of the race.

“If you have a financial advantage, which Romney does, it is important. It does give you more options,” said Tad Devine, a Democratic consultant who was a senior strategist for Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s presidential bids. “You’re able to do more things with your money.”

But it’s not self-evident what those things ought to be. Romney could deepen his presence in the dozen battleground states where he has opened offices, hired field staffers, and intermittently run advertisements since the spring.

But another way to exploit the advantage, Devine said, would be to try to make inroads in areas that are not part of the traditional Republican map and have not received the full force of Romney’s attention — states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — and prompt Obama to spend more money to defend them.

“If they want to fully use the resource advantage, they have to expand the map beyond the 10 or 11 states that are competitive right now,” Devine said. “Now, you’re forcing the other guy to waste a lot of money.”

Romney’s campaign ran a very tight ship in the primaries — one where the candidate was flying on commercial airlines, staying in low-cost hotels, and eating at fast-food restaurants — all in the name of preserving resources for a general election where officials had anticipated being outspent. At the same time, Obama spent heavily and early, trying to brand Romney in the minds of voters and identify and mobilize his supporters early.

Even in the last several months as Romney has far exceeded Obama in raising money, the Democrat has outspent him in a way that his advisers say has allowed Obama to establish a consistent polling advantage.

Romney since the start of June has spent $25.8 million on ads, for example, while Obama has spent $77.6 million, according to data maintained by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group.

But Romney spent much of the summer raising money, and saw his accounts balloon as the Republicans ended a bitter primary battle and began consolidating around Romney.

Romney’s campaign has also launched an aggressive effort to utilize his new running mate, Paul Ryan, to raise new funds. The Republican’s presidential campaign last week announced a $10 million cash surge since Ryan joined the campaign. A memo from Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager, said 68 percent of donations were from new donors, and that the average donation was $81.

Romney and Obama are unrestrained by restrictions that came with public financing, allowing them to raise unlimited amounts of money.

In addition, Romney is benefiting from Republican super PACs, which are run independent of the campaign, that have far outraised their Democratic counterparts.

Although Romney has an advantage going forward, he has been vastly outspent by Obama, a point Romney’s campaign often makes in an effort to show that it is only now catching up with the president.

Now, Romney’s financial staff members believe they are on pace to match Obama’s haul, which experts believe will top out around $800 million, for each campaign.

But campaign aides say this new parity has changed little psychologically — they proudly note that some staffers are paying their own way to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, and pledge that the sodas at the Boston headquarters will never be free — and top advisers still meet with Rhoades, the campaign manager, to present ideas of how the money should be spent. Every day, a report is produced showing how much money was spent, how much came in, and how much is left.

One area they may choose to invest in is developing a more robust get-out-the-vote operation, in an attempt to ensure their strongest supporters turn out on Election Day.

Romney also may face pressure from Republicans to focus his resources in ways that will benefit other Republicans on the ballot in state and local races.

“In 2008 the Obama campaign was in a position where it didn’t have to make the choices campaigns often have to make,” said Michael J. Malbin, founder and executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute. “They didn’t have to pull out of a state because the percentage points went down a few points. They didn’t have to do A or B — they could do both.”

The desirable television ad space in the dozen or so battleground states is likely to be bought up by early September, according to some campaign observers, which will make it increasingly difficult for candidates to use any more money to mount a television ad campaign.

“There will be a lot of TV,” said Dave Carney, a New Hampshire-based Republican consultant who was national field director for President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 campaign. “But you’ll see a hugely expanded use of money to reach voters beyond what has traditionally been done.”

One shift this year is more money being poured into online ads, and into ways to target specific voters in a fragmented media environment.

In one innovative case, the campaigns are using Pandora, the online music service, to target listeners of a range of music genres to sign up for campaign updates.

But with this election testing the limits of total spending, some experts question how big an impact the extra money will have on a race where each candidate alone could spend nearly $1 billion.

“It’s such a scale, frankly, that it’s so much greater than what we’ve ever seen before,” said Lawrence H. Norton, former general counsel to the Federal Election Commission. “There’s no history here where we can say for sure whether they’re going to get value for all this spending.”

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