Romney campaign aims at raising $600 million

Now that Mitt Romney has the nomination all but assured, he and his team can now start looking forward to raising money for the general election.  With Barack Obama eschewing public financing again, Romney wants to raise a boatload of cash to compete with Obama’s arguably disappointing fundraising in this cycle — and he wants to take a page from Obama’s playbook to do it:

Aides and leading donors to Mitt Romney are preparing a major expansion of the campaign’s fund-raising efforts to prepare for a general election contest against President Obama, with the goal of raising up to $600 million, according to several people involved in the discussions. …

Those efforts will be aided by a new joint fund-raising agreement with the Republican National Committee that allows Mr. Romney to command far larger checks than he has during the primaries, when his campaign was limited to increments of $2,500 or less. Under the agreement, guests at major Romney events will be able to write checks as large as $75,000 to a “Romney Victory” committee.

About half of that sum would go Mr. Romney’s campaign or the Republican committee, mimicking the arrangement under which Mr. Obama, as an incumbent, has been raising money since last spring for his campaign and the Democratic National Committee. The remainder will be split among Republican state parties in Massachusetts, Idaho, Oklahoma and Vermont — where party leaders are deemed loyal to Mr. Romney — and later re-allocated to the most critical battleground states.

“It’s going to ramp up dramatically,” said Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and one of Mr. Romney’s national finance co-chairmen. “The response I’ve been getting, of people willing to max out on the victory side, has been very very good, very enthusiastic.”

The Times asserts that Obama will raise more money than his 2008 haul of $750 million, based on sources within the campaign, but that seems very optimistic.  Obama’s fundraising so far trails the pace set by George W. Bush in 2004 in nominal dollar value, let alone constant dollars.  Bush took public financing in the general election, ending his fundraising in August 2004, but until then had only raised $260.6 million.  For that matter, Obama is off of his own 2008 pace in this cycle, despite attending three times the number of fundraisers that Bush had to this stage in 2004.  A goal of $600 million might be too high for Obama at this point.

For Romney, the relatively early end of the primary process allows him to focus more on fundraising for the general election.  The strategy of combining forces with the party’s central committee isn’t new, but it’s been put to good use by Obama in this cycle.  The question will be whether the RNC can jump in immediately, with two other nominal candidates refusing to exit the race, or whether it needs to stay on the sidelines.  Somehow I think the attraction of the fundraising possibilities for the party will outweigh the momentary and limited criticism the GOP might receive for appearing to favor the man who will win the nomination outright shortly anyway.

Republicans have assumed that the nominee would face an overwhelming financial disadvantage in the general election, but this suggests that the two campaigns will be near fiscal parity, or at least close enough to where the funding difference will be irrelevant to the election.  Throw in the super-PACs and the big donors that lined up for the Republican candidates in the primaries, and this may look pretty good for the GOP after all.

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