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Presidential Primary Has GOP Nervous

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images
As the Republican presidential primary contest among candidates (from left) Rep. Ron Paul, former Sen. Rick Santorum, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker Newt Gingrich drags on, party members worry that the delay in securing a nominee will hurt the GOP in the general election.

Gingrich and Santorum — as well as candidates who have since exited the race — seem to hope to win the nomination in much the same way as McCain did, and indeed, they have alternately thrived despite organizational limitations. Gingrich handily won South Carolina; Santorum narrowly won Iowa and was victorious in “beauty contests” in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

Fundraising for Gingrich and Santorum has picked up markedly from earlier in the campaign. They did not trail Romney by much in January, raising
$5.6 million and $4.5 million, respectively, to the former governor’s $6.5 million.

Gingrich and Santorum have been boosted by independently run political action committees, although the pro-Romney Restore Our Future super PAC continues to significantly outraise and outspend rivals.

But winning a general election fought on a narrowly divided Electoral College map — as polls suggest of this year’s race — requires significant resources and preparation, particularly against what is already a strong, well-funded Obama campaign. More than 300 paid staffers work from the president’s Chicago re-election headquarters; the campaign has been funded by more than 1.4 million donors — many classified as unpaid volunteers — and new field offices are opening daily.

Republican consultant Ed Rollins said a good candidate is essential to winning the White House — but is not enough. “To win, you need two elements,” Rollins said in an interview with Roll Call. “A good candidate can’t win without a good campaign structure and good operatives.”

Rollins managed President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election and advised the 2008 presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the now-defunct 2012 bid of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.).

Schmidt said a worthy model for first-time presidential candidates is Bush, who began formulating the “mechanics, plans and architecture” of his 2000 White House bid in 1998, the year he won re-election as Texas governor.

With that in mind, Schmidt labeled as “fanciful” the notion that Republicans could ramp up a campaign “overnight” and still hope to compete with Obama should they fail to produce a nominee until their Tampa convention in late August.

Both Paul and Romney ran for president in 2008 and began the 2012 race with existing campaign networks. Each is attempting to follow in the footsteps of previous Republican nominees who ran at least once and lost before winning their party’s nod — Reagan, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (Kan.) and McCain among them.

Despite the advantages that often accompany a second bid, some unaffiliated GOP operatives contend that not having run for president previously is no excuse for the organizational ineptness exhibited by some of this year’s first-time candidates. That Gingrich and Santorum failed to qualify for the primary ballot in the key Super Tuesday state of Virginia — where they are both official residents — troubles them.

“The fact that there are states where they aren’t on the primary or caucus ballot has got to be a complete embarrassment,” one Republican campaign operative said.

Getting on the ballot in Virginia is “‘ABC’ easy,” added a Republican with presidential campaign experience who now works on K Street. “It is essential that the nominee have a national organization. Romney has the closest to one; Gingrich and Santorum have nothing.”

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