In 'Romney Town,' New York donors place bets on Gingrich's implosion
As Mitt Romney weathers what he hopes will be a temporary surge in the Republican primary by Newt Gingrich, there's one important constituency that remains loyally by his side: New York donors.
"The level of support among donors is undiminished," said former congressman Rick Lazio, who co-hosted a breakfast fund-raiser for Romney's campaign at Cipriani on Wednesday morning. "There's still a lot of enthusiasm for him. The people that came today believe in his experience, believe that he's got the right combination of temperament, skills, and experience, together with ideas, to be the man who help move us as a nation in the right direction."
More than 500 paying donors flocked to Cipriani for the first of four well-attended fund-raisers Romney hosted on a one-day swing through the city, which the Romney camp estimated to have brought in more than $2 million, including a reported $1.2 million at a single event yesterday evening. This comes after Romney raised $1.1 million at an event in New Jersey with Governor Chris Christie, and was Romney's first fund-raising trip to New York since former House speaker Gingrich vaulted to the top of the polls and seized the front-runner mantle.
At the first of two lunch fund-raisers in the afternoon, some of Romney's supporters wondered how long the Gingrich threat could possibly last.
"The problem with Gingrich is, and the talk around the lunchroom as we were eating—look, Gingrich is a very, very smart guy—but everybody was taking bets what the date of him imploding was," said John Catsimatidis, a supermarket magnate who was one of the co-hosts of an event at the Regency, which drew about 80 Romney supporters.
I asked Catsimatidis what date he had bet on.
"We said in the next six weeks," he said.
Romney has exercised a near-monopoly on New York City money since the beginning of the race, with the other candidates competing at the margins for the relative few who remain unconverted. Gingrich's first big New York fund-raiser was held last week at the Union League Club, with a host committee of exactly one, and drew about 80 donors, or roughly the number of co-hosts for Romney's Cipriani event.
Romney's ability to raise money has taken on a newfound importance in recent weeks, as the campaign girds for what could be a long primary campaign.
In response to a question from an attendee at the morning event, Romney laid out a basic rationale for how he could wait out his rival's momentum, and even withstand some losses in the early states, with more money and a more organized campaign.
And Romney's supporters think he's well-suited for an attritional primary.
"It's kind of face-off time, which is a good place for him to be," said Lazio. "Now of course, we—all his supporters—wish he was ahead by 25 points, but that's not reality. But he's going to the primary season with a superior amount of organization, people that are seasoned and lots of key folks in important places who will be helpful to get the vote out. I'm talking about governors and other people like that who have endorsed him. And that counts for a lot.
"And obviously he's got a very strong advantage in terms of his ability to put advertising up on the air and to compete over the long run in some very expensive media markets. Once you get past Iowa, and New Hampshire, and South Carolina, you're talking about Florida, and Michigan, you know, expensive states to advertise in, and they're delegate-rich states."
Lazio, for his part, declined to join some of his former House colleagues in criticizing Gingrich's role as speaker.
"I'm not really going to say anything too negative about him because he was very supportive of a lot of the work I did, especially in the housing area," Lazio said. "And I think people have a frame of reference that is, whatever, 15 years old and that sort of speaks for itself."
After his Cipriani breakfast and his Regency lunch, Romney attended a second lunch at the Waldorf Astoria, hosted by J.P. Morgan vice chairman Jimmy Lee, and then an evening event at the Union League Club hosted by top-tier Republican bundler Paul Singer.
"As far as New Yorkers are concerned, he's a more moderate person for New Yorkers. He's a stable individual," said Catsimatidis, explaining his appeal here. "Let's use the right adjectives: stable. And common-sense. And capable of taking the independent vote besides the Republican vote."
Catsimatidis thought the sudden competition had already made Romney better.
"I'll tell you, since the last time I saw the governor speak, he was exceptional," Catsimatidis said. "He was sharper. He was very enthusiastic. He was resonating the right tone. And everybody walked out of that lunch two inches higher."
At the end of the last filing period in September, before Gingrich's rise in the polls, Romney had raised $32 million to Gingrich's $2.9 million, and had $14.6 million on hand, while Gingrich actually owed more money than he had left. Gingrich's campaign says it raised $4 million in the first half of the 4th quarter.