Grass-roots Republicans may be flocking to Newt Gingrich in key primary states, but when it comes to winning over establishment Washington, D.C., the former Speaker still has a long way to go to catch former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
As of the end of September, Romney had collected close to $1.3 million from Washington-area donors in the $1,000-and-up category, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. By contrast, Gingrich had raised a paltry $89,650 from this group, notwithstanding his decades as a Washington lawmaker, strategist and pundit. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had raised $325,150 from the Beltway crowd.
Romney's dramatic advantage on K Street underscores the challenge that Gingrich in particular faces as he scrambles to ramp up his shoestring campaign to match his soaring poll numbers. As in the money chase overall — which showed Romney with $32.2 million in receipts as of Sept. 30 compared with Gingrich's $2.9 million — the former Speaker has an awfully steep hill to climb.
Gingrich's backing from Beltway donors and bundlers will spike as he racks up wins on the campaign trail, his D.C. loyalists argue. With the help of former aides and colleagues on Capitol Hill, who until now have formed the core of his K Street fan club, Gingrich is planning a fundraiser this Wednesday at the Occidental Grill & Seafood.
"I think there's a lot of surprise on K Street, and I think people are taking a second look," said Dan Meyer, senior vice president and partner at the Duberstein Group and Gingrich's former chief of staff. Meyer added: "People in Washington like to support people who are going to win. So all of a sudden, Newt's getting a lot of attention."
But even Gingrich's visit this week will demonstrate Romney's advantage. Gingrich's Occidental Grill reception has a 16-member host committee. In contrast, a D.C. "Young Professionals" reception for Romney on Dec. 14 boasts the backing of three dozen GOP lawmakers, more than a dozen co-chairmen who will raise $5,000 each, and 75 additional hosts who will raise $1,000 apiece.
Given the millions of dollars Gingrich has collected from influential donors for his strategic advice, speeches and nonprofit organizations, his backing on K Street has been surprisingly slow to materialize. Just one Washington donor had given the maximum $2,500 to Gingrich as of Sept. 30, according to the CFI analysis — Kenneth Duberstein, chairman and CEO of the Duberstein Group.
"This is not overwhelming establishment Republican support; it's actually overwhelming Republican establishment distancing," said Michael Malbin, the institute's executive director. "That may change. But it's surprising. It's much less than other insurgent candidates."
Gingrich's supporters brush aside his lack of K Street backing, which they argue means little in a year when many GOP donors and bundlers from previous contests remain on the sidelines.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.