WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney has shrugged off b-list contenders to position himself as the Republican nominee, but now he has a tougher challenge: outmaneuvering a well-organized, better-funded US President Barack Obama.
The task at hand, Romney policy director Lanhee Chen said, is “crystallizing for the American people that choice” between four more years of a failed presidency, as Romney describes it, and a Republican restart in the White House.
That can’t happen without several boxes being checked. Here are some key tasks for Romney to accomplish as the long grind starts up.
LINE YOUR POCKETS
Romney, himself a multi-millionaire former venture capitalist, always had a money advantage over his Republican rivals, but against the Obama machine he’s the financial underdog. Known for pumping millions of his own dollars into his 2008 bid, Romney may well do the same this year, but Republicans acknowledge he must begin quickly amassing donor funds to go toe to toe with the president.
“Our donors are ready to mobilize for November,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
The candidate has already planned several fundraisers in a bid to catch up to Obama, who had raised $157 million for his reelection effort by the end of February. Romney raised $75 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.
But Romney was forced to spend $66 million on his long primary campaign, leaving him with just $7 million in cash on hand, compared to $84 million for Obama.
Liberated from the primary race, Romney can enlist the Republican National Committee (RNC) to help raise money. He’ll need to rally not just big-league donors, but expand grass-roots fundraising nationwide, including in states that voted for more conservative rivals Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
EXPAND YOUR GROUND GAME
Romney needs organizational depth, something team Obama has been honing for the past three years.
“The Romney campaign has demonstrated that they know the importance of grass roots organization,” said former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, one of Romney’s most outspoken supporters.
Primary operations need to ramp up fast if a candidate is to compete in the general election. Romney will no longer have to commit time to primary states like New York, which is very likely to go to Obama in November; instead he can focus on key swing states.
But operations need to multiply in size if he hopes to have aides knock on doors, phone prospective supporters and donors, and map out local and regional strategies to get out the vote.
This is tricky, for he must woo independents and conservatives alike. The electorate’s moderate middle is fertile ground for any challenger to an incumbent, and Obama will be on guard to prevent Romney from luring independents and centrist Democrats.
The brutal primary campaign forced Romney to the right. In the process he spent millions of dollars in negative ads trashing his more conservative rivals such as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and many in the Republican core felt stung.
“After having destroyed every conservative that came on the scene, you can’t say ‘You have to line up behind me,’” legendary Republican strategist Richard Viguerie told MSNBC. “No, no, no. Conservatives are not going to jump until they hear where governor Romney wants to take everybody.”
If he wants to take the conservative cause all the way to the White House, he also needs to whittle down Obama’s huge advantage with Hispanic and female voters. Sniping this past week over which side is conducting a “war on women” has framed the first major battle of the election.
CHOOSE YOUR RUNNING MATE
“Vice presidents can matter a whole lot,” RNC chairman Reince Priebus said this past week, as Washington went into its quadrennial tizzy over who might become the challenger’s running mate.
Romney will have to thread the needle, especially after John McCain’s maverick Sarah Palin pick backfired in 2008. He could choose star US Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the son of Cuban immigrants, to woo the Latino vote.
Or he could pick someone like congressman Paul Ryan, whose budget blueprint was endorsed by Romney, and who’d put the focus squarely on the election’s paramount issue: the economy.