Romney's Mormon Money Paradox

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R.) can’t break double-digits in the polls in his campaign for the 2008 Republican nomination for President, but has somehow set the pace for GOP fundraising. What gives?

Today, Romney pulls only 9.7% on the Real Clear Politics poll average. Yet, he leads the pack in Republican fundraising, posting a cool $23.4 million in the first quarter of the 2008 presidential election. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who leads the RCP poll with 31.5% only raised $16.6 million. Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), who polls 19% raised a little over $13 million.

So, where is Romney’s money coming from and how come it doesn’t translate in a poll boost?

A partial answer to the first question is Utah.

Like roughly 62% of the state’s population, Romney is a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints. He is also well-known to Utahans because of his work there as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Of all the money contributed to presidential elections from Utah residents in the first quarter, Romney received 91% of it. Utah residents gave more than $3 million to the 2008 election and $2.77 million of that went to Romney’s coffers, according to an analysis conducted by Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City.

Money-in-Politics Reporter Lindsay Renick Mayer of the Center for Responsive Politics which tracks campaign spending, noted that in the 2004 presidential race Utah ranked 40th among the states in political contributions. Now, it is 13th. Mayer said Romney’s candidacy is the reason.

According to a February survey for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV by Dan Jones & Associates, Romney tallied 45%. McCain picked up 11% of Utahans and Giuliani netted 7%.

Mayer explained, “As a Mormon, Romney has developed ties to the state that boasts the largest Mormon population in the country. Nearly 92 percent of Utah’s contributions so far have gone to the former Massachusetts governor, and the state’s total to Romney for just the first quarter is nearly half the $5.4 million it contributed to all candidates during the entire 2004 race. The state’s capital, Salt Lake City, has emerged as one of the most generous cities of the ’08 cycle, along with traditional toppers Los Angeles and New York.”

At least two notably wealthy Mormon families have lined up contributions for the Romney campaign in the first quarter. The family of Forbes 400-member Jon Huntsman Sr., who owns the largest petrochemical company in the world, gave more than $170,000. (Jon Huntsman Sr.’s son, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is a committed McCain supporter). Family members of Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller contributed $100,000.

Romney has also done well fundraising in other states with high Mormon populations. In Idaho, the state with the second highest concentration of Mormon residents, Romney raised $214,756 from 168 different donors. By comparison, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), who raised more than GOP or Democrat presidential candidate, only received $11,700 from eight Idahoans. Giuliani only raised $10,950 from 11 donors there.

In Wyoming, which has the third highest concentration of Mormon constituents, Romney received $32,250 from 26 contributors. Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) raised the second-highest amount of money in that state. He received $14,900 from 15 contributors. Clinton was given $2,050 from eight donors there.  Three donors from Wyoming wrote checks to the Giuliani campaign that totaled $5,600.

But will the Mormon money advantage translate into better poll numbers nationwide, or more importantly, votes?

Historically, Utah voters have a terrible primary voter turnout record. The State Elections office found that the June 27, 2006 primary only netted 13.39% of voters.  In 2004, Utah GOP skipped out of the primary and didn’t hold one for President Bush’s reelection. In 2002, Utah held their primary on March 10. Only 10% of the voters showed up at the ballots.

Utah has since moved their primary date up to “Super Duper Tuesday” on February 5 2008 to keep pace with the other 26 states that could be voting that day.  But Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics told the Salt Lake Tribune “it really doesn’t matter when Utah holds its primary” because  the state only has a population of 2.6 million and will be swamped by larger states with more delegates.

Another point worth considering is that when Romney reported his first quarter fundraising activities, $2.35 million of Romney’s $23.4 total had been transferred from his personal money. Take away Romney’s personal money and the cash he raised in Utah, which adds up to $5.12 million, Romney raised $18.8 million — which puts Giuliani’s fundraising numbers much closer to Romney’s.
Yet, Giuliani is still far ahead of Romney in the national polls, 31.5% to 9.7%. Granted, Giuliani hasn’t been tagged with a memorable negative label like “flip-flopper” yet, but what remains to be seen is this: Is Romney’s Mormon cash an advantage or a paradox?