Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are grappling for momentum in the Republican presidential race, competing for donors, supporters and attention as the field of candidates has solidified and they prepare for a debate next week focused on the U.S. economy.
Both received boosts this week.
Perry’s campaign said yesterday that the Texas governor raised more than $17 million through Sept. 30, a total likely to exceed his rivals during the year’s third quarter. He also stands to benefit from the announcement yesterday by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin that she won’t enter the race, giving Perry a chance to compete for uncommitted social and fiscal conservatives who were awaiting her decision.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, picked up some key endorsements after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Oct. 4 he wouldn’t seek the Republican nomination.
“Romney is clearly the last man standing,” said Georgette Mosbacher, a prominent Republican fundraiser who signed up to back him after previously supporting Christie. “It’s time for us to coalesce around our candidate.”
Roughly a dozen major Republican donors, who had been uncommitted, are “revving up” to help Romney, said Mosbacher, the chief executive officer of New York-based Borghese, a global cosmetics company.
Referring to his failed bid for the 2008 nomination and his lengthy preparation for this race, she said, “We know who Romney is; there’s not going to be any surprises.”
The decisions by Palin and Christie also probably remove any surprises about the makeup of the Republican race, meaning next year’s challenger to President Barack Obama almost certainly will emerge from the current contenders.
“Christie’s decision probably helps Romney because his support will now gravitate to him, and conversely Palin’s decision will probably help Perry because Palin’s constituency is more likely to go his way,” said John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
Perry, 61, is trying to rebound from recent political stumbles that cost him the frontrunner status he had quickly achieved in polls of the Republican race after declaring his candidacy on Aug. 13. His third-quarter fundraising may help restore some confidence among donors and party activists as he seeks to establish himself as the main alternative to Romney.
Early in Season
“This early in the primary season, with voters months away from heading to polls or caucuses in any state, perception is everything,” said Rogan Kersh, associate dean at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. Strong fundraising usually improves attitudes toward a candidate, he said.
Perry, who reported $15 million in the bank as of Sept. 30, has been on the defensive over his support of legislation providing in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.
Romney, 64, could report up to $14 million in the third quarter, according to a person close to the campaign who spoke on condition of anonymity because the campaign hasn’t authorized disclosure of figures. He raised $18.3 million -- more than any other Republican -- in the year’s second quarter.
Perry will face a challenge maintaining his fundraising momentum following his initial report. It is harder for candidates to sustain donation rates after their most enthusiastic supporters have given and they are forced to find new donors. Perry reported that 49 percent of his donors came from his home state. He also received donations from the 49 other states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam.
Republicans will have to weigh whether Perry’s fundraising strength and appeal to the Tea Party, a political movement whose goals include reducing federal government spending, taxes and budget deficits, outweigh flaws that have emerged in the early stages of his presidential bid.
“There’s slow-and-steady Mitt Romney, and then there are all the other candidates who keep going up and down,” said Republican strategist Alex Castellanos, who isn’t affiliated with any of the campaigns. “Sometimes last-man-standing is a good strategy. Mitt Romney may just be able to outlast everyone else.”
Perry has dropped in opinion polls after drawing attacks from his Republican opponents, many of whom spotlighted the illegal immigration issue. A Washington Post-ABC News survey of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents taken Sept. 29 through Oct. 2 gave Perry 16 percent -- a 13 percentage point decline since early September -- and in a tie with former Godfather’s Pizza Chief Executive Officer Herman Cain. Romney led the Republican field with 25 percent.
Perry had led a similar poll last month with 29 percent to Romney’s 25 percent.
A CBS News poll also showed Perry dropping, Cain rising and Romney static. Romney and Cain were tied in the survey of Republican primary voters, conducted Sept. 28 through Oct. 2, at 17 percent, while Perry was third with 12 percent.
In a similar poll two weeks ago, Perry led with 23 percent, while Romney had 16 percent support and Cain 5 percent.
Perry inflicted a political wound on himself among Republicans when he said at a Sept. 22 debate that those who opposed the in-state tuition rates for children of illegal immigrants in Texas that he has supported as governor don’t “have a heart.” Last week, while standing by the program, he said he “probably chose a poor word to explain that.”
Oct. 11 Debate
Romney and Perry are among the eight major Republican presidential candidates scheduled to participate in an Oct. 11 debate sponsored by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post.
The debate, to be held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, is the first of the 2012 campaign to concern solely the economy. It will be broadcast on Bloomberg Television, Bloomberg Radio, WBIN-TV in New Hampshire and on Bloomberg.com and WashingtonPost.com.
The decision by Christie, 49, to not enter the race gives Romney a fresh chance to consolidate support from traditional Republican leaders and activists who haven’t rallied around him.
Senator Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican who is leading Romney’s efforts to win support among the party’s lawmakers in Washington, said he doesn’t detect a groundswell for an alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.
“It’s late and I think the field is set,” Blunt said in an interview.
He called Romney the “most likely person” to be able to beat Obama in next year’s election.
Wall Street Ties
Christie’s stature and ties to Wall Street kept a group of major New York and New Jersey fundraisers on the sidelines as they awaited his decision.
“I think people are going to start going Romney’s way,” said John Catsimatidis, a Republican supermarket executive who is backing Romney now that Christie has made his decision.
“You can’t pick somebody that’s going to make yourself 100 percent happy on the conservative end because then he’ll only get 47 percent against President Obama,” he said. “But if you pick someone that will make you get 75 percent happy, then you’ll have someone that can beat President Obama. Romney falls into that category. He’s capable of winning.”
Romney, as part of a campaign trip yesterday to Florida, announced he had won the endorsements of three leading Republican state lawmakers there.
“They’ve run a very disciplined campaign,” said incoming Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, who endorsed Romney yesterday. “They knew there’d be ups and downs for other candidates, but they also recognized that they needed to stay focused on their platform and their agenda and they’ve done that very successfully.”
U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, another of the Republican presidential candidates, said at a National Press Club luncheon in Washington yesterday that the interest in Christie demonstrated a yearning among Republican voters for additional choices.
“It represents the failure of the system and what is offered up,” he said. “They keep looking for others.”
Paul, 75, said he remains optimistic about his chances for the nomination. He reported raising more than $8 million during the quarter, from what he said were nearly five times as many donors as Perry. He ranked fourth in the Washington Post-ABC News poll at 11 percent.