Mitt Romney rolled out his Arizona fundraising team this week, a move that indicates the former Massachusetts governor intends to take the fight for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination straight to Sen. John McCain —and in McCain’s home state.
Romney’s committee features several prominent attorneys, real estate developers and GOP fundraisers who are being called upon to raise money for the 2008 campaign both in Arizona and across the nation.
“The team we have put together in Arizona is a collection of some of the state’s best, most energetic and most committed leaders,” Romney said in a prepared statement. “With their help, I know our vision for the future will be heard loudly in Arizona.”
He’ll need some help. He enters the presidential derby in fourth place among Arizona Republicans according to latest polling.
McCain leads the pack of possible GOP candidates with 40 percent support, according to a Rocky Mountain Poll released Jan. 24 by the Behavioral Research Center.
McCain is trailed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with 15 percent, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani with 13 percent and Romney with 11 percent.
The survey of 251 Republican voters statewide had a margin of error of 6.3 percentage points.
Lobbyist and political strategist Kevin DeMenna, one of six co-chairmen in Romney’s Arizona finance steering committee, said: “There is no getting around the fact that John McCain is huge. He’s a player on the world stage. He’s a war hero. This is a guy who commands respect anywhere he goes — and you can’t get around that.”
But Romney also offers a unique set of attributes, such as business acumen, an inclusive leadership style and conservative values, DeMenna said. “For me and I think — well, I know — for a lot of Arizonans, he’s a great fit,” he said.
Romney’s strategy is threefold, say national and local political observers. His goals:
• Move money out of Arizona to spend in other parts of the country.
• Capture momentum with a strong second-place finish on McCain’s home turf, an early primary state.
• Be ready to win the state should something derail Mc-Cain’s campaign.
Danny Diaz, a spokesman for McCain’s national presidential exploratory committee, declined to discuss Romney’s moves in Arizona. Diaz noted that McCain enjoys strong support, both from political leaders and voters across the state.
Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., said Romney will need to raise money from across the country, including Arizona, to mount a serious campaign.
“The fact that he might not have much of a chance in an Arizona primary against John McCain doesn’t mean that Arizona money won’t help him out,” he said. “It may not be a New York or a California, but I never thought I’d be able to raise the kind of money I did in my race, either. And in these campaigns, every dollar counts.”
Kyl raised $15.5 million for his successful 2006 reelection campaign. Of that, 73 percent came from instate sources, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington, D.C., watchdog group.
Kyl said he expects to work on McCain’s campaign.
Presidential candidates in general are reluctant to walk away from any state, said Jennifer Duffy, editor of the nonpartisan Washington, D.C., newsletter, The Cook Political Report.
“You have to compete,” she said. “Whether you actually think you’re going to win it or not is another story; you have to run a 50-state campaign.”
Furthermore, Arizona’s sizable Mormon population could position Romney, who is Mormon, for a unexpected strong showing in the state. “Second place is not shabby,” Duffy said.
A close finish here could fuel Romney’s campaign for later primaries in neutral states, she said.
Bob Grossfeld, president of The Media Guys political consulting firm in Scottsdale, said that by running in McCain’s territory, Romney disrupts the perception that McCain is invincible.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s Arizona financial steering committee is composed of well-known GOP players.
Susan and Paul Gilbert: He is co-founder of the Beus Gilbert law firm in Scottsdale.
Lee Hanley: Founding principal and chairman of Vestar Development Co., a Phoenix-based shopping center developer.
Kevin DeMenna: A Prescott lobbyist recognized as the Arizona Republican Party’s top fundraiser last week.
Harry Cavanagh: Founder of the O’Connor Cavanagh law firm and namesake of the Phoenix-based Cavanagh Law Firm.
Wil Cardon: President and CEO of The Cardon Group, a Mesa real estate investment company.
Corinne Lovas: A political fundraiser who has worked on Sen. Jon Kyl’s and President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaigns and for other Republican candidates and causes.