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Posted at 7:26 AM ET, 02/ 3/2011

Mitt Romney flexes his financial muscle

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is flexing his financial muscle in advance of the 2012 presidential race. AP Photo

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has doled out nearly $130,000 in contributions to Republican candidates already in 2011, an early sign of both financial strength and a commitment to party building from the likely 2012 presidential candidate.

Via his Free and Strong America political action committee, Romney made donations to 14 Senators -- four of whom are up for reelection in 2012 -- as well as 37 House members for a total of $129,500 in campaign contributions.

"We need to show our Republican friends that we appreciate their efforts to curb wasteful spending, lower taxes and bringing down our staggering $14 trillion debt," said Romney of the rationale behind his donations.

Romney aides added that the contributions are evidence that the former governor remains focused on helping the party, even as he contemplates whether or not to run for president. (Romney is, of course, an almost-certain candidate for national office in 2008 and polling suggests he would begin the race as the nominal frontrunner for the GOP nomination.)

Fair enough. But the heavy donations by Romney also have at least two other important effects.

First, it makes very clear that Romney is the financial bigfoot in the race. The latest donations bring his total contributions to candidates via his federal and state-affiliated PACs to $1.3 million since 2009 -- a staggering total that dwarfs what any of his potential 2012 rivals have doled out through their various organizations.

(Romney's financial juggernaut also raised $6.2 million through his various committees and ended 2010 with nearly $1.5 million left to spend.)

Add to Romney's fundraising capacity the fact that he has the ability to self-fund much of the race -- he spent more than $70 million of his own money on his 2008 presidential bid -- and it quickly becomes clear that he will set the financial pace in the 2012 field.

Second, Romney's largesse, when it comes to candidates for federal, state and even local office, buys -- ha! -- him goodwill throughout the ranks of the party as he prepares for the presidential race.

Included in Romney's lates round of donations are people like Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) -- neither of whom are up for reelection until 2016 but both of whom hail from critical early caucus and primary states.

Romney's PAC also made contributions to both freshmen New Hampshire congressmen and Iowa Rep. Tom Latham (R).

The contributions could also function as a sort of peace offering from Romney to congressional Republicans, many of whom were privately perturbed when he came out in opposition to the tax compromise deal they had negotiated with President Obama.

Romney and his team are, in all likelihood, not all that concerned with whether he can win a popularity contest on Capitol Hill. In fact, it might be better for his chances of winning the nomination if he isn't seen as the establishment candidate. But it can't hurt to have a few less Hill Republicans willing to give a snarky quote to a reporter.

Mixed numbers for Bill Nelson: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has a whole bunch of Republicans gunning for him, and while his numbers could be much worse, he is hardly unbeatable.

A new poll this morning from Quinnipiac University shows 45 percent of Floridians approve of the job Nelson is doing, with only 21 percent disapproving. When matched up against a generic Republican, Nelson leads 41 percent to 35 percent.

The high number of undecideds means the 2012 Senate race is anybody's ballgame. Having an approval rating that is 24 points higher than your dispproval is really nice, it's not so nice when your approval is still below 50 percent.

Repeal comes up short: As expected, a Senate vote on repeal of the health care law Wednesday evening failed, 51-47, along party lines. All Democrats voted against, while all Republicans voted in favor. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) were not present.

Pressure from Republicans on vulnerable Democrats had no effect on the final tally, but those senators can expect their votes to come up early and often before Election Day 2012. Republicans wasted little time pointing to votes cast by Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) as particularly damning.

Now the big question is whether the health care bill will go to the Supreme Court, where the vote might actually be a nail-biter. All eyes are on Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on most major issues.

Neumann vs. Kohl?: Former Rep. Mark Neumann (R-Wis.) sounds like a potential candidate against Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) after issuing a statement criticizing the senator's vote against repealing the health care bill. Neumann made a pair of references to campaigns -- both Sen. Russ Feingold's (D-Wis.) 2010 loss and Kohl's recent decision to self-fund $1 million for his 2012 campaign -- in hitting Kohl's vote.

"Russ Feingold learned the hard way last November that you can run, but you cannot hide from those bad votes," Neumann said, sounding much like a candidate.

Neumann also wrote an op-ed in January asking whether Kohl had learned the lessons of Feingold's defeat.

It has all the makings of a campaign launch for the former congressman, who lost a primary for governor last year and lost a Senate campaign against Feingold in 1998 (by just two points). Neumann could be a good fit for the GOP if Kohl seeks reelection, because the race would be a lower-tier target and Neumann can self-fund to some extent.

Obama pitches Better Buildings in Pa.: President Obama will be in State College, Pa., today, where he is set to lay out his new "Better Buildings Initiative."

The initiative seeks to create more efficient workplaces through a mix of tax credits, increased access to lenders, competition for innovation and challenging executives to commit to upgrading their facilities, according to senior administration officials briefed on the speech.

The speech expands on proposals the president laid out in his State of the Union speech last week. The officials said it would be a "high impact" speech.


Politico reports Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) will announce this month that he will challenge Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) in a primary.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is doubling down on his position that the GOP should move its focus away from social issues. That stance previously earned Daniels some rebuke from the social conservative community.

Former Missouri state Treasurer Sarah Steelman (R) raised $208,000 in December for her campaign against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), outraising the senator during the abbreviated year-end filing period.

McCaskill denies that she was privately worried about holding the 2012 Democratic National Convention in St. Louis, for fear that it would harm her reelection bid.

It's on in Montana, where Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is already tying Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). Rehberg will announce his candidacy for Senate this weekend.

The Census on Wednesday sent detailed population data to the four states holding state legislative elections in 2010 -- Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and West Virginia -- so that they can begin work on redistricting. Once those states receive those data, they will be available publicly. Next week, data will be available for Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, and Maryland

Minorities accounted for about 85 percent of the United States's population growth over the last decade, according to the census. That means lots of new districts could be majority-minority.

Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell has switched from Democrat to Republican. There have been dozens of party-switchers in state legislatures, but Caldwell is the first statewide office-holder to switch parties this year.


"John Thune faces tough choice on 2012" -- Manu Raju and Jonathan Martin, Politico

"Did Ensign conceive of the investigation around him?" -- Jon Ralston, Las Vegas Sun

"The case for running for president -- and losing" -- Steve Kornacki, Salon

"Orrin Hatch plays ball with tea party" - Manu Raju, Politico

"Come Write-in, Senator" - Dan Rather, Huffington Post

By Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake  | February 3, 2011; 7:26 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Fix  
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