SALT LAKE CITY — If Mitt Romney's run for the presidency looks like a marathon, Jon Huntsman is at a sprint.
Huntsman arrives in Salt Lake Tuesday morning after making four campaign stops in California in a single day--jetting from Newport Beach to San Francisco, trying to stuff as much money into his campaign coffers as possible for a presidential contest that could be the most expensive in history.
The problem Huntsman faces is that his home state, which gave record levels in the last presidential election, will be divided between he and Romney, who raked in over $5 million from Utah in 2008.
Huntsman, the former Utah governor, arrives tomorrow for a $1,000-a-plate lunch at the Alta Club, one week after Romney visited for fundraising of his own. Romney has established himself as the clear frontrunner for the Republican nomination: he leads polling and has amassed the largest war chest of the prospective field. Last month, Romney raised $10.25 million in just eight hours during a phone bank fundraiser in Las Vegas.
Earlier in the year, Republican insiders suggested that Romney was aiming to raise $50 million by the June 30 cutoff for the second quarter. Romney aides are now trying to suppress expectations by suggesting his 2007 first quarter figure of $23.4 million is comparable for what to expect for the second quarter of 2011, while several media outlets are predicting Romney's haul will come in closer to the $36.2 million George W. Bush raised during the first three months after declaring his candidacy in 1999.
"Romney is going to show very strong (financially)," former Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson told Politico last week. "He's in a field by himself."
Where Huntsman stands in the field is still an open question. Because he only declared his candidacy last week, his campaign isn't required to file a campaign finance report for the second quarter. But the June 30 deadline clearly carries some significance for his campaign, as illustrated in an email sent Monday to Huntsman supporters that states, "We need to raise $200,000 online by a very important fundraising deadline of this Thursday, June 30th."
Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller declined to comment Monday regarding whether the campaign intends to file a financial disclosure for the second quarter. At this point, the only certainties about Huntsman's ability to raise money are that he netted $1.2 million last Tuesday in New York and, the following day in South Carolina, disclosed to reporters that he gave his campaign an undisclosed sum of his own money "to prime the pump."
While Utah has never been a major player in terms of fundraising for presidential elections, Romney changed that to some extent in 2008 by sparking an unprecedented amount of donations. In the 2000 election, $877,000 was donated to presidential campaigns, and in 2004, that number rose to $1.1 million. But in 2008, with Romney in the race, that figure multiplied nearly 10 times to exceed $9.9 million — more than half of which went to Romney.
"There were so many first-time donors to Romney in 2007-08 that have now been contributing to other candidates since then because it ignited a fire in them," said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "Such an incredibly small percentage of people actually make political donations, and the single biggest indicator of whether someone will give is if they've given before. So I think the excitement over Romney (in 2007-08) will actually increase the amount of political dollars available in Utah in the future."
John Weaver, Huntsman's chief strategist, told the Washington Post last week that the community of wealthy and influential Mormon families who gave to Romney in 2008 will now be split. Several insiders told the Post that Huntsman and his supporters have been calling Romney donors and asking them to give to Huntsman as well. "People who know both of them have a high regard for both of them," Joel C. Peterson, a Utah-based venture capitalist and JetBlue Airways chairmam told the paper. "At some point they'll have to choose."
Some have already made their choice. Billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr., for example, served as one of Romney's national finance chairmen during 2007-08, but now his political ties with the former Olympics boss are severed as his son and namesake competes for the same office as Romney. Salt Lake City attorney and businessman Lew Cramer is another prominent Utahn who left Romney's camp for Huntsman.
"Raising money for Gov. Huntsman is a lot easier than I thought it'd be," said Cramer, who serves on Huntsman's national finance committee. "He's an extremely popular governor here — his policies and his ideas and his internationalism are in sync with what people want to support. … I've been extremely successful making (fundraising) phone calls for him. It's really interesting where this is going to go."
"At first I thought that Mitt had probably already gone around and vacuumed up all the money there was," Cramer said. "But I guess my lesson is, there's a lot more political support in this state for candidates than there was 4-5 years ago. I give Mitt full credit for that, making people realize that if you're going to participate in politics it takes money to make that happen. That's going to help Mitt of course, but it's also going to help Gov. Huntsman."