Anyone looking to write off Mitt Romney over the healthcare issue got a rude awakening after the GOP presidential contender Monday raised a staggering $10.2 million in a single day.
Last week wasn’t the former Massachusetts governor’s easiest. Romney attempted to deal with his biggest political liability—his support for a state healthcare plan that resembles the law passed by the Democratic Congress last year—head on in a speech in Michigan. The effort earned him brickbats from pundits, zings from other GOP presidential candidates and the continued mistrust of a wide swath of conservative voters.
But Romney was also praised for his political fortitude by current Republican heartthrob, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, suggesting that not every conservative views him as radioactive. Since then, you could argue that Romney is on a bit of a roll.
On Saturday, Mike Huckabee, who had, along with Romney, shown the most strength of any Republican contender in national polls, said he was staying on the sidelines for 2012. Huckabee’s announcement was followed by a similar one from Donald Trump, who has decided to stay with NBC‘s “Celebrity Apprentice.” And while the Donald was not judged to be a serious candidate, he filled up the media airspace to the exclusion of other top-tier entrants such as Romney.
On Sunday, Newt Gingrich, another prime rival, launched a series of policy contortions that have outraged some conservatives and baffled some political observers. In an interview, Gingrich body-slammed Rep. Paul Ryan, another Republican star, over his proposed Medicare plan and suggested that he might support an individual requirement to purchase health insurance, which is political castor oil for the GOP base.
The following day, the former House speaker’s campaign backtracked, praising Ryan and releasing a video that firmly stated Gingrich’s opposition to the individual mandate, but the damage lingers.
Tuesday, another GOP shining light, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, chimed in.
“What he said was absolutely unfortunate," Haley said in an interview with CNN. "Here you've got Representative Ryan trying to bring common sense to this world of insanity, and Newt absolutely cut him off at the knees."
"When you have a conservative fighting for real change, the last thing we need is a presidential candidate cutting him off at the knees," she said.
All the friendly fire aimed at Gingrich helps Romney, who, for once, has the target off his back. And for all the jockeying among the Gingrichs, Pawlentys and Bachmanns of the world, Monday’s telethon in Las Vegas was a clanging reminder of the former venture capitalist’s fundraising might and why he could be tough to vanquish over the long haul.
Romney, who hasn’t formally declared his candidacy but has formed an exploratory committee, swamped the take any GOP candidate reported in the first quarter of the year, when he took in $1.9 million through his political action committee and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota hauled in $1.7 million for her congressional campaign fund and $500,000 through her PAC.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, another Republican running for president, said he raised around $3 million through two political action committees. Money raised through PACs can’t be used for a presidential bid.
Moreover, Romney pulled off the fundraising feat in Nevada, a state that is key to his early hopes next year. The candidate is hoping to win Nevada, New Hampshire and perhaps most critically Florida as a springboard to the GOP nomination, while possibly conceding Iowa and South Carolina, two states packed with social conservatives who may be looking to throw their support elsewhere.
But by virtue of his healthcare speech last week and the fundraiser Monday, Romney’s campaign has finally pushed the throttle forward.
The possible bump ahead: Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a particular favorite of budget-minded conservatives who is debating whether to enter the race. If Daniels, too, passes, then Romney will really be rolling. But regardless, nothing will come easy in this GOP primary, and Romney is likely to need every cent of that $10 million.