Oct. 24, 2014
Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Mitt Romney’s Tough Job: Wooing Conservatives

Now that Rick Santorum has suspended his campaign, Mitt Romney is reaching out to conservative activists. But his reception so far has ranged from tepid to downright hostile.

“To date, Mitt Romney has spent about $100 million to drive the conservative candidates from the field, in some case through personal attacks,” conservative organizer Richard Viguerie said in a statement. “However, he has spent little effort making the case for his own candidacy to grass-roots movement conservatives. The first great challenge facing conservatives is whether or not Mitt Romney can heal the wounds created by his negative campaigning.”

Viguerie and other conservative leaders who had been backing Santorum met with the Pennsylvania Senator to plot strategy last week, convinced that his candidacy remained viable despite Romney’s delegate advantage. Now that Santorum has put his campaign on hold, conservatives appear reluctant to embrace Romney too quickly, determined to ensure that the presumptive nominee does not take them for granted.

A key question for the former Massachusetts governor is whether he can capture not just the endorsement but the active support of conservative organizers and voters.

Despite his frontrunner status and substantial Wall Street backing, Romney has failed to ignite enthusiasm among the conservative grass roots and has struggled to raise money from low-dollar donors.

Romney began the process of wooing conservative organizers even before Santorum dropped out.

As early as Monday, Romney’s campaign contacted Catholic Vote, an advocacy group opposed to abortion that has spent about $200,000 on ads and get-out-the-vote activities on Santorum’s behalf. The Romney camp signaled respectful interest in a conversation should Santorum decide to leave, Catholic Vote President Brian Burch said.

“I think it would be a mistake for us to simply jump in and say, ‘Well, of course we will support Mitt Romney,’” Burch said. “We aren’t just gadflies. We are an important voting bloc that expects to be taken seriously.”

Catholic Vote is one of more than a half-dozen conservative groups and super PACs that have spent just under $7.8 million on pro-Santorum campaign ads and expenditures, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The bulk of that money came from the Red, White and Blue Fund, a pro-Santorum super PAC whose top backer is conservative businessman Foster Friess. Friess also spent $71,616 on pro-Santorum ads independent from the PAC. He has now signaled that he will back Romney.

Red, White and Blue Fund founder Nick Ryan issued a statement today that hailed Santorum as a “great leader” but did not endorse Romney or signal the super PAC’s plans going forward. Super PAC organizers could not be reached for comment.

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