In Need of Cash, Gingrich Is Forced to Focus on Donors Rather Than Voters
Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By TRIP GABRIEL
Published: February 12, 2012
Mr. Perry asked his top financial rainmakers to raise money for Mr. Gingrich, telling the group, according to one participant, that he fully supported the former House speaker.
But it seems unlikely that Mr. Gingrich will reap a financial windfall from wealthy donors for his cash-starved campaign, Perry supporters and Republican leaders said, even as Mr. Gingrich begins three days of fund-raising in California on Monday.
The detour to a state that is rich in Republican donors but does not hold its primary until June comes during a third week in which Mr. Gingrich will make limited public appearances, and it comes ahead of the 10 contests on “Super Tuesday,” March 6, which looks increasingly like a make-or-break date for Mr. Gingrich’s struggling campaign.
He will be largely out of sight for part of this week, just as he was in the days before last week’s contests in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, which Rick Santorum won, and before the Feb. 4 caucuses in Nevada, which Mitt Romney won. Even as he sacrifices time in front of voters, his prospects of raising the cash he needs are uncertain.
“Unless your name is Mitt Romney, raising money in this political environment is like trying to hit a bullet with another bullet while riding a horse,” said Ron Nehring, a former chairman of the California Republican Party.
Roy Bailey, who was a national finance co-chairman for Mr. Perry, said most of the Texas governor’s wealthy supporters would hesitate to back Mr. Gingrich. “The problem is you want to feel the person you’re supporting has a really good chance of succeeding,” Mr. Bailey said. “I think bundlers are waiting to see who emerges to be the conservative choice. Is it going to be Gingrich or is it going to be Santorum? Santorum clearly has a lot of momentum right now.”
In California, Mr. Gingrich will attend small-scale events in homes, restaurants and country clubs, where he will seek checks of $500 to $2,500.
For $500, supporters can attend breakfast with Mr. Gingrich on Tuesday morning at a country club outside San Diego. (For $1,000, they can have their photograph taken with him.) That evening, Valentine’s Day, he will attend a cocktail reception at a private home in Fresno, Calif., where a $2,500 donation includes “a little Champagne, a photo op,” said Wendy Turner, the host.
Fund-raising experts say such supporters are midtier donors who seek to rub elbows and pose for a picture in exchange for checks. They have Mr. Gingrich’s attention just now because he has had little success with the top-tier bundlers who gather the maximum legal donations of $2,500 from networks of friends and business associates.
These are the “access” fund-raisers who want a connection to the candidate once he is in the White House, and they commit only to someone whose odds of becoming the nominee are good, Mr. Nehring said. “Everybody wants to be an ambassador,” he said. “You only get to be an ambassador if your guy wins.”
Mr. Gingrich has put little effort into building a network of fund-raisers, focusing instead on the debates. After his one primary victory to date, in South Carolina, the campaign announced that it had quickly raised $2 million with an Internet appeal. But that small-donor momentum has now shifted to Mr. Santorum, whose campaign said it raised $3 million in as many days after his trifecta of victories last week.
In a memorandum on Jan. 30, Martin Baker, Mr. Gingrich’s national political director, wrote that because of “overwhelming support” after South Carolina, “the Gingrich campaign is now in a position where we will be able to respond to Romney’s ads in every state moving forward.”
But that promise appears to have quickly faded. The campaign did not run any advertisements after the Florida primary — in Nevada or elsewhere — according to Kantar Media.
Much of Mr. Gingrich’s four days in Nevada ahead of the caucuses there were spent seeking donors. About 30 top fund-raisers from around the country gathered in Las Vegas and pledged to raise $2 million, said Eric Beach, a national finance chairman for Mr. Gingrich’s campaign.
“It’s always hard to raise money, but at the same time I think there’s a lot of support out there for Newt’s ideas, and that’s why we got those commitments,” said Mr. Beach, who initiated the get-together and also oversees Mr. Gingrich’s fund-raising in California.
The group met in a conference room at the Venetian hotel, which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who with his wife and other family members has contributed a reported $11 million to a “super PAC” supporting Mr. Gingrich. It has largely financed Mr. Gingrich’s anti-Romney advertisements.
Mr. Adelson addressed the fund-raisers from around the country, said people who were there, but his remarks were confined to his life story and he did not commit more money to the Gingrich campaign. Mr. Adelson has signaled to Mr. Romney’s supporters that he will back him if he becomes the nominee.
Until and if that happens, Mr. Adelson’s willingness to further help Mr. Gingrich is unclear. “It is best described as ‘remains to be seen,’ ” an associate of Mr. Adelson’s said on Friday.
At the Venetian meeting, the fund-raisers heard Mr. Gingrich’s political aides lay out their strategy to capture as many delegates as Mr. Romney in the next months: winning in the Southern states that vote on Super Tuesday — Georgia, Tennessee and Oklahoma — while remaining competitive in Ohio and then winning Texas in April with Mr. Perry’s support.
But all that was before Mr. Santorum’s victories last week, which won him few delegates but something more valuable: the aura of a victor.
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