Berman in with Romney team

Early signs of 2012 power
Politico
Jonathan Martin
July 16, 2010

With roughly 18 months to go until the Iowa caucuses, here’s what the latest fundraising numbers and recent activity of potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates tell us: Mitt Romney is the traditional front-runner, Sarah Palin is a not-so-traditional force, and Tim Pawlenty is the early bird. As for Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, they want to stay in the conversation.

There’s one other sign worth noting: It appears that many GOP mouths and wallets are staying shut until Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels reveal their intentions.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

The 2008 presidential hopeful outpaced the field by raising $1.8 million in the second quarter for his political action committee. In the first half of this year, he has raised $3.5 million — double any of the other GOP prospects.

He also is being methodical about his money and endorsements. While wading into some GOP primary battles on behalf of candidates who supported his White House bid, Romney is mostly waiting until after primaries take place to get involved. After each primary, his PAC will issue a statement of support for a state’s slate of GOP candidates and cut checks for them individually. He has already distributed about $400,000 to Republican candidates and causes, much of it in pivotal primary states, such as New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But it’s what Romney is doing that’s not searchable in the Federal Election Commission database that has many Republican insiders convinced that he’s a lock to run again and the early candidate to beat.

While splitting his time between a new home near San Diego and a place on New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee, the former governor is also logging hours in three other places critical to a presidential run: Washington, New York and the campaign trail.

In the capital, Romney has sought to cultivate new or improved relationships with GOP lobbyists and staffers, as well as members of Congress. He’s holding one-on-one meetings to get to know K Street players who may have supported other candidates in 2008. He’s already landed the support of überlobbyist Wayne Berman, a top fundraiser for John McCain’s campaign. Romney also is sitting down in the Capitol to plot strategy and renew ties with members and their chiefs of staff who backed his last bid. And he is paying visits to GOP congressional leaders such as House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio and Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.

In New York, Romney has been similarly aggressive in trying to make new friends. He held a large, $1,000-per-person breakfast fundraiser in May at the Waldorf-Astoria that featured Wall Street titans such as former Goldman Sachs Chairman John Whitehead, Henry Kravis of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts and investor and former Republican National Committee finance Chairman Lewis Eisenberg — all McCain supporters in 2008. He’s already gotten a commitment of support from another major McCain backer: New York Jets owner Woody Johnson.

And he’s on the road, appearing at fundraisers and rallies for gubernatorial candidates like Nikki Haley in South Carolina and also doing less publicized events that could accrue to his benefit in another presidential run. For example, last month in Chicago, a major hub for campaign cash, Romney gave the keynote at a closed-door fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee that raised $700,000.

Romney has also retained the support of most of his top aides and advisers from his past campaign. He holds regular reunion gatherings with them and will invite his former team to his lake house next month for a summer cookout. Such consultants and operatives most likely will form the nucleus of a 2012 race, and no other potential candidate has such an infrastructure-in-waiting in place.

Romney’s major challenge is the same as it was for his last run: authenticity. Can he convey it in his politics and his persona?

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin

While Romney is doing all that presidential hopefuls typically do in the run-up to a White House bid, the former vice presidential nominee is doing the opposite: no sit-downs with members of Congress and no schmoozing with money types on Wall Street or in Washington in an effort to develop a political organization.

Palin, of course, doesn’t necessarily need to do such spadework since she enjoys a following rivaled by no American politician except President Barack Obama.

She can command an audience in the thousands in any city and create breathless cable TV coverage with just a few sentences on Facebook or Twitter.

Recently, she signaled that she intends to professionalize her approach to politics, cutting a slick and much-buzzed-about video, delivering policy speeches, doing direct mail and showing a pragmatic streak in her candidate endorsements.

If she intends to run, though, she’ll need to do far more to put together the type of infrastructure needed to compete in the early states. Beyond organization, her larger problem is being viewed as presidential material. For all her appeal among conservatives, there are many in the party who — while tickled about how she sticks it to the media and the left — simply don’t want her to run.

To wit, Palin raised $866,000 in the last quarter. That’s an impressive number but far less than what a figure with her appeal ought to be bringing in.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty

The Minnesota governor’s approach to a possible White House bid resembles that of Romney, circa 2008.

Like the former Massachusetts governor four years ago, Pawlenty is aggressively traveling to early states like Iowa and New Hampshire to become better known among GOP activists. He also is working diligently to cultivate national operatives and donors.

Just as Romney had to be more forward-leaning in a field that included household names such as McCain and Rudy Giuliani, Pawlenty has to be more open about his intentions to crowd into the same space with the likes of Palin and, well, Romney.

Pawlenty is already signing up supporters in New Hampshire and Iowa and also is using his role as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association to meet donors. He’s in Aspen, Colo., this week, for example, raising money for GOP governors.

He raised $724,000 in his most recent report — a strong tally for a not terribly well-known politician and especially impressive since it is in the same ballpark as Palin’s haul. (And, unlike some of his GOP rivals, Pawlenty has a day job.)

The Minnesotan’s obstacles include a charisma deficit and a clear rationale for why he should be president. His appeal is more heavy on process — he got elected in a liberal-leaning state and has a blue-collar background — than it is on any overriding policy ideas at the moment.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee

The two have every reason to fan speculation that they may each run for president. It means more attention to their Fox News appearances, continued demand for paid speaking opportunities and more robust sales for their frequent books.

Both know how to deliver a good line and carve out a space in the news cycle. Yet will they really give up their media-personality-cum-provocateur roles and the money that comes with them to put together presidential organizations and spend 14-hour days with grass-roots activists?

Gingrich may be the better bet of the two. He raised almost $3.5 million between two political organizations over the past three months, one of which doesn’t have contribution limits. He said this week in Iowa that he’s “never been this serious” about a White House run. How to know if he means it? If he starts releasing county-by-county lists of supporters in the early states.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour

Neither has a federal PAC, and both have gone to lengths to publicly explain why they would not run for president. But the two governors — both old Washington hands — have a lot of fans in the ranks of establishment Republicans. There is considerable money and support on the table until they decide.

The two are also close, leading some GOP insiders to think that if one runs, the other will stay out. But if either does get in, he will vie with Pawlenty to be the mainstream conservative alternative to Romney.

Absent federal PACs, success will be measured by whether Daniels can flip the Indiana state House to the GOP — his chief political focus this year — and by how many governorships Barbour can win in his capacity as chairman of the RGA.