This year, Lindner withheld support for months. He finally contributed to Romney in September, along with a dozen or so family members and AFG executives. But without Lindner's fundraising efforts, only 17 percent of Ohio big donors from 2007 have given to Romney this year — the lowest rate among Romney's top 10 donor states.
By contrast, over 40 percent of Romney's Maryland big 2007 donors have given this year. Romney's biggest fundraisers there are the Marriott family, whose eponymous corporate headquarters are located in Bethesda. The Marriotts, close personal friends with the Romneys, have been just as active in their support this year as they were four years ago.
Few of the missing '07 bundlers have given to other presidential campaigns. And some may be choosing to give instead to Romney's Super PAC, called Restore Our Future, which can accept unlimited contributions.
But conversations with well-connected Republicans suggest that most of these bundlers are simply staying on the sidelines during the nomination process. Most of the big Super PAC checks, they say, are going to outside conservative organizations — such as American Crossroads, American Action Network, and Americans for Prosperity — rather than to individual candidates.
LEAVING LEFT AND RIGHT
Those unaffiliated Super PACs are one of many ways that the money in GOP politics has moved to more conservative causes — at just the wrong time for Romney.
It was different four years ago. In late 2006, after the implosion of Virginia senator George Allen left Arizona senator John McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as the presumed front-runners for the 2008 GOP nomination, Romney made a calculated decision to run as the viable conservative alternative. That led him to take hard-line positions on gay marriage, abortion, the Iraq War, gun control, and immigration, among other issues.
That's the Romney many conservative Republicans thought they were backing in early 2007. Since then, however, they have come to doubt whether Romney really believes any of it. They have learned that Romney was effectively pro-choice until not long before that presidential run, for example, and that his wrath toward illegal immigrants is also of recent vintage.
There's also the "RomneyCare" problem, which few knew about then, but which dominates conservative circles now.
Plus, Romney made a clear move toward the center after 2008. Romney's 2009 book, No Apology, reflects this shift, as does the wide berth he gives the Tea Party.
"He is the candidate who is furthest to the left in this race," says the well-connected Massachusetts Republican, who believes that many who saw Romney as the conservative alternative four years ago are now seeking a conservative alternative to him.
But there are also those who, at the start of 2007, thought that Romney was a moderate. They knew him as a non-ideological manager, whether from his days at Bain Consulting and Bain Capital, or the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.
They have been alienated by Romney's conservative positions, according to some observers. Many businessmen, for instance, are not willing to support someone who trashes undocumented immigrants (especially one, such as Romney, who pledges to punish their employers, who include many of these businessmen).
Romney's vociferous opposition to same-sex marriage, although known in 2007, has become far less socially acceptable since — even Romney's old corporate home, Bain, has seen a male manager marry another man.