Romney holds daylong event to display fund-raising prowess

Vegas drive adds about $10.25m to coffers, aides say

By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / May 17, 2011

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LAS VEGAS — Mitt Romney made a show of force yesterday, with around 720 supporters placing calls around the country and displaying one of the most important strengths for his emerging campaign: fund-raising capacity.

Supporters — gathered in a conference room at the Las Vegas Convention Center that Romney aides noted was the size of two football fields — began making calls at 5:30 a.m., asking contributors to give the maximum to his campaign.

In all, about $10.25 million was raised, according to Romney staffers.

“I know a lot of people have been asking, ‘When is this campaign really going to get going? When do the gears get into place?’ And the answer is today,’’ Romney said yesterday morning on a conference call with supporters. “This is the time that we are, if you will, activating our friends across the country.’’

Former Olympic speed skaters Dan Jansen and Derek Parra were on hand, and model Cindy Crawford was featured in the demonstration video teaching volunteers how to use the fund-raising software, dubbed ComMitt.

“It’s only $2,500,’’ one fund-raiser was overheard saying on his cellphone. “I wish I could ask for more.’’

The “National Call Day’’ was similar to a daylong fund-raising event Romney held in Boston during his last campaign, which his staff said drew about 400 people and brought in $6.5 million in actual contributions and signed pledges.

That event, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, was meant to highlight his home state, with the Fenway Park anthem “Dirty Water’’ blaring from the loudspeakers after he spoke.

Yesterday’s event was held 2,700 miles away, and designed to show how important Nevada will be to Romney’s campaign this time. The state’s caucuses are scheduled to be held after the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucuses, and Romney has placed nearly as much early emphasis on Nevada as he has on New Hampshire.

By most measures, Romney should perform strongly in Nevada. An estimated 7.5 percent of the state’s residents share Romney’s Mormon faith, and exit polls showed that Mormons accounted for one in four Republican caucusgoers in 2008. He also won the 2008 Nevada caucuses handily and starts the 2012 contest with a formidable organization in place.

Still, the race could be complicated for Romney by the rightward tug from Tea Party insurgents in Nevada, as well as the possibility that Jon Huntsman Jr., a former governor of neighboring Utah and a fellow Mormon, enters the race and competes for similar voters.

The state is also one of the most economically depressed in the nation, which means it could be receptive to Romney’s core message that his business background makes him ideally suited to fix the country’s economic woes.

“I think he’s incredibly well positioned,’’ said Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief executive who ran unsuccessfully for governor of California last year and helped raise funds yesterday. “Nevada is a crucial state for . . . Mitt Romney to win the nomination. He will be here a lot.’’

Romney also held a “town hall’’ meeting yesterday on Facebook, where he appeared live from the fund-raiser and selected five questions to answer. Almost all of them had to do with economic concerns, the area Romney has focused on tightly.

“Our president, likable as he is, has done all the wrong things to turn the economy around,’’ Romney said. “Government has to be a partner with the economy, not a foe or a competitor with the entrepreneur and the business person.’’

Romney also criticized the financial legislation passed by Congress last year that was spearheaded by Representative Barney Frank of Newton. He said the legislation had too much regulation and “will cost us jobs down the road,’’ but stopped short of calling for a repeal of the law, as he has done with health care.

“Whether you repeal the whole bill wholesale is something which you’d have to resolve after you had a chance to look at each of the pieces of regulation that comes forward,’’ he said after meeting with students yesterday afternoon at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. “But clearly the consumers deserve protection.’’

He also said he would cut the deficit, largely by focusing on discretionary spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Romney has yet to outline in depth what types of measures that would entail.

But he also pledged not to cut the defense budget, saying any spending viewed as wasteful would be redirected to military programs.

Some advisers suggested that no other candidate in the Republican field could put on such a public display of fund-raising abilities.

“It requires a pretty enormous network of people across the country to be able to turn out a group like this,’’ said Spencer Zwick, who is Romney’s national finance chairman. “Could another campaign do it? I don’t know.’’

Romney was clearly buoyed yesterday afternoon by the amount raised by his supporters but was also not ready to rule out tapping his own personal wealth.

“That’s counsel I’m going to keep with Ann and myself,’’ he said, referring to his wife. “So I can’t give you any more update than that. We’re just going to keep that to our own counsel.’’

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