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Money Doesn't Necessarily Buy Victory

By Peter Brown

Those who believe that money controls politics will have a chance to test their theory with the presidential candidacy of Mitt Romney. They might want to remember what happened to John Connally and Howard Dean.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Romney is a hit in the boardroom and with the party elites, but so far less so among the rank-and-file Republicans whom he wants to nominate him for president.

Romney, a successful businessman who became governor of one of the nation's most Democratic and politically liberal states, is trying to convince the GOP primary electorate that he shares their conservative views and values.

He leads Republican presidential candidates in raising money, bringing in $23 million in the first three months of the year, but his campaign runs well behind in the polls.

Romney is somewhat correct that "the polls at this point are name ID ... of course I'm not a household name." But he ought to be concerned that in poll after poll, among those who know enough about him to have an opinion, he gets only mixed grades.

In seven national polls taken in late March compiled by the authoritative Web site realclearpolitics.com, Romney ran fifth, receiving an average of 7.5 percent of the Republican vote. He trailed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, actor and former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, who hasn't said if he'll run, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who almost certainly won't.

Moreover, in-depth surveys that seek to measure how voters who are familiar with a candidate feel about him are also problematical for Romney.

In March surveys done by the Quinnipiac Poll in Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, in which voters are asked to rate candidates either favorably or unfavorably, his showing is the least positive of the four top GOP contenders.

Just slightly more people view Romney favorably than unfavorably. By comparison, Giuliani's ratio is three-to-one favorable, McCain two-to-one, and Thompson, whose name identification is slightly less than Romney's, is almost two-to-one favorable.

And, Romney would also be the big loser if Thompson does get into the race. A Southerner with a conservative voting record, Thompson would be Romney's major rival for the right-of-center voters who dominate GOP primaries and might find former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani too liberal and Sen. John McCain too quirky.

All this comes after events of the past year broke Romney's way. McCain's lead as the early front-runner for the nomination has evaporated. Sens. George Allen of Virginia and Bill Frist of Tennessee, who had been expected to carry the mantle of "the conservative candidate" in the primaries, did not run - Allen lost his Senate re-election and Frist woke up to political reality.

Many conservatives find McCain unacceptable, but it is Giuliani, a philosophical moderate and fellow Northeasterner, who has benefited. Romney says he is the mainstream conservative in the race, but being from Massachusetts has made that a difficult task in the southern-centered GOP.

Of course, Romney has worked hard to remake himself in their image, but some of his positions in Massachusetts have complicated that effort. To be sure, he has some support. A Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times poll of members of the Republican National Committee showed him to be their favorite candidate.

And, no doubt, his impressive fund-raising numbers will give him a boost in addition to the staff and television commercials $23 million can buy.

Yet, Romney needs to translate that elite and financial support into more tangible success with voters.

The comparisons with Connally and Dean are worth considering.

Connally, a former Texas governor who switched parties to become a Republican and faced questions about the sincerity of his beliefs when he ran for the 1980 GOP nomination, is worth considering. Connally had a high-priced campaign in which he left his competitors, including a guy named Ronald Reagan, in the dust when it came to raising money. Yet the $11 million he raised then (at the time a huge amount) won him only one convention delegate.

Dean was the early Democratic money leader four years ago but his candidacy went down in flames.

There's nothing that says Romney will face a similar fate, but it's worth remembering that in politics, money doesn't always buy victory.

Peter A. Brown is assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. He can be reached at peter.brown@quinnipiac.edu

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