This time around, with Giuliani now acknowledging his pro-choice position on abortion and McCain under heavy fire for the immigration bill he helped write (and with prominent conservatives like George Allen not in the race), the right flank is wide open. Romney, a recent and unconvincing convert to right-wing positions on issues such as abortion and gun control, can fill that slot, like Bush in ’99, only by being the sole conservative with a realistic chance of winning. So far, Romney’s muscular command has prevented the lifeblood of media and funding from reaching Kansas senator Sam Brownback, former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, California congressman Duncan Hunter, Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, and former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, none of whom have risen above low single digits in the polls.
But Romney is also contending with the ghostly presence of candidates not yet in the race. Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator best known for his Law & Order role, may announce his plans as soon as mid June, although a final decision might not come until September. If Thompson runs, it will be as a “true conservative,” and he is getting encouragement from former staff of right-wing favorite Bill Frist. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, has repeatedly said he will enter the race in the fall — he now pinpoints November 6 as his decision date — if the field lacks a conservative-enough voice.
“Romney has got the shadow of Thompson and Gingrich hanging over his shoulder, and that’s keeping his poll numbers down,” says Raymond La Raja, a political-science professor at UMass Amherst.
The best way to keep those candidates from hurting his chances is to keep them from running. One way to do that is to start leaking dirt on them. “If I was running the Romney research shop, my full force would be on Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich right now, to make it more difficult for them to get into the race,” says a Republican operative who is supporting another presidential candidate.
It’s likely that Romney’s team is working on that already. But Romney also has the chance to use the Ames poll to make himself look too mighty, too popular, and too deep-pocketed to take on.
Leader of the PAC
It must amuse Romney that the political pundits and media were so awed by his ability to raise a mere $20 million in three months; the company he co-founded, Bain Capital, raised $10 billion for its private-equity funds in the first three months of 2006.
Most of Romney’s contributions have come from a small circle of wealthy people, most of whom have made lots of money off him over the years. After all, he has made fortunes for investors and business executives, and it’s not much to ask them for a $2300 maximum individual donation. Romney received that amount, or close to it, from more than 100 current or former Bain employees and their spouses. But that’s just for starters; his contributors include scores of investors who have placed money in Bain’s venture funds, managers at leveraged-buyout firms that have done deals with Bain, partners and attorneys at law firms that Bain uses to conduct its buyouts, and principals in the companies Bain has invested in.