"McCain was disliked by a lot of the non-Washington Republican establishment," Gray says. The reasons ranged from personal clashes to the Arizona senator's campaign-finance law — but most of all, there was the Bush family's bitter memories from the 2000 nomination campaign.
With no obvious establishment candidate to rally behind, Romney became the beneficiary of anti-McCain money.
This time, without the common enemy, the establishment has lost interest in Romney, hoping to find someone closer to their own circles — someone like former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, or Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.
The retreat of the establishment from Romney is evident in the many Bush bundlers, including a large number in Texas, who joined the Romney effort in '07 but have not done so in '11.
Nowhere is it more apparent than in Florida, however. Two of the state's top Republican fundraising consultants, both with long ties to Jeb Bush and the Bush family, signed on with Romney early for the '08 campaign.
Neither has returned to him this year. Sally Bradshaw took a job with Barbour when he was considering entering the race, and now remains unattached to any presidential campaign. Ann Herberger is running Huntsman's campaign fundraising effort.
There is some evidence that the reticent may be starting to return — particularly since Christie declined to run, and since Rick Perry failed to impress in early debates.
"It's still not an avalanche," says Dwight, "but it's a slow steady trickle."
Regardless, some Republican insiders are now nervous that the coolness toward Romney may be a bad sign for the general election, if Romney captures the nomination.
They say that it's clear that the more people get to know Romney, the less enthused they become. If Romney is at the top of the Republican ticket, that could hurt in everything from fundraising to voter turnout.
To read the Talking Politics blog, go to thePhoenix.com/talkingpolitics. David S. Bernstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @dbernstein.
These states had the most high-dollar Romney donors back in 2007 — yet in each state, only a fraction of those donors have contributed this time around.
The Phoenix determined the return-contributor rate for Romney's high-dollar 2007 contributors by comparing lists submitted by the campaign to the Federal Election Commission. High-dollar donors were defined as individuals giving at least $1800, or within $500 of the $2300 maximum allowed in that election cycle.
Those were compared against lists of all reported donors to Romney in 2011, which includes anyone who has given at least $200.
In many cases, the donor's employer, address, or even name has changed or was reported differently. The Phoenix tried to account for these changes in identifying matches.