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Mitt Romney raises cash in Vegas phone-a-thon

Mitt Romney's phone-a-thon aimed to showcase his fundraising strength in a key early primary state. His staff said $10.25 million was raised, mostly from known supporters.

May 16, 2011|By Kim Geiger and Stephen Ceasar
  • GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes a call during his phone-a-thon fundraiser at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The campaign said it raised $10.25 million.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes a call during his phone-a-thon… (Ethan Miller, Getty Images )

Reporting from Las Vegas — The venue and event were far removed from Mitt Romney's straight-laced, wealthy persona, but that didn't stop about 800 volunteers from gathering at the Las Vegas Convention Center on Monday to participate in the first major phone-a-thon of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign.

Supporters of the former Massachusetts governor spent the afternoon huddled around phones asking friends, family and business associates to make donations.

"I'm calling raising funds for Mitt Romney for president," one volunteer said over his cellphone as he tried to reach a potential donor. "Tell him it won't take but a second to get his credit card number."

"I'm taking your political pulse this morning," he said to another. "How are you feeling?"

The Nevada event, a reprise of one Romney staged in his unsuccessful 2008 campaign, was meant to showcase the candidate's financial strength in this key 2012 early primary state, where he has staked much prestige.

The $10.25-million haul claimed by the campaign reflected a fundraising effort that got underway well before the Monday event. Inside the convention hall, a constellation of telephone-equipped red, white and blue tables encircled a small stage. Giant American flags and television screens loomed overhead.

Yet many volunteers seemed more comfortable placing calls on personal cellphones in hallways and secluded corners, pacing with phone to ear, call list in hand. They traveled at their own expense to Las Vegas and paid for their own lunch.

"The strength of our call day is that each one of these individuals represents their own network," said Romney aide Spencer Zwick, who touted the campaign's approach of relying on volunteers to supply their own call lists.

Under this format, the telethon appeared to be more a display of campaign bundling — a widely used fundraising tactic of deploying a small group of well-connected supporters to reel in contributions from a broader base of donors.

Reflecting on what he described as a "big day," Romney said the money raised Monday was "a terrific start."

"It really gives us the boost that we need at this early stage," he told reporters after a town hall meeting with students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

In 2007, Romney packed a Boston convention hall with supporters who raised $6.5 million in donations and pledges in a similar daylong phone-a-thon. Romney raised a total of $21 million that quarter.

Matt LeBretton, 36, of Boston came with his wife, Michelle, who is pregnant with their third child, and decided to turn the trip into a vacation.

"But we're here to work," said Michelle LeBretton. She said they were calling on potential donors who "are already supporters."

Her calls weren't going so well. But her husband had secured "a couple dozen" donations, from $25 to the maximum, $2,500.

Matt LeBretton works for an athletic apparel company. He said he called people who "in the past have said good things about Mitt."

Some supporters had been lining up donations in advance. On Monday, they were given software that allows them to make credit card transactions from iPhones and other devices.

As was the case in 2007, Romney is the first in the field of GOP hopefuls to hold a major fundraising event.

kim.geiger@latimes.com

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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