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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Romney Donors Meet to Schmooze . . . and Raise More

So just what did Mitt Romney's high-dollar donors come to the Waldorf-Astoria to do this week?

They chatted punt fakes with Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets and a national finance co-chairman of the Romney campaign, clad in his trademark green tie.

They traipsed onto the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Monday evening, braving the spitting rain to be regaled at a gala dinner by the likes of Representative Paul D. Ryan, Mr. Romney's running mate, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and even Donald Trump.

And they passed through the dimly lighted oak lobby of the storied hotel en route to strategy sessions, as “super PAC” heavy hitters - Carl Forti, who directs the more than $100 million political ad budget of Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney group, and Charles Spies, the group's lawyer - chatted just in front of the reception desk.

But perhaps the most valuable experience of the three-day donor retreat came Tuesday afterno on during a session titled “Make the Difference,” when Spencer Zwick, the campaign's national finance chairman, informed the more than 1,000 donors present that they were about to kick-off a speed call-a-thon.

The goal? A cool $2 million in just 45 minutes.

Donors, most of whom had long ago raised the $50,000 entrance fee, were urged to pull out their cellphones and begin dialing for dollars, tapping into their networks for people who had donated to Mr. Romney during the primary but had not yet jumped on board financially for the general election.

A PowerPoint slide urged them to recruit a total of 800 new donations, at $2,500 a piece. “Process today,” reminded another bullet point.

(Earlier in the lobby, Mr. Johnson had offered his own theory on rustling up money: Don't send e-mails, he explained, because “that's a warning.” Just cold call, and tell your friends that Mitt Romney needs their help.)

Earl ier during Mr. Zwick's session, according to people who had seen the PowerPoint presentation, donors had been plied with encouraging numbers: The finance team had always hoped to raise $750 million for the entire campaign, but it was now on track to hit $850 million by Election Day. Roughly $128 million of that haul had been raised online, more than $50 million in the past six weeks. Even small-dollar donations were picking up - 96 percent of the online donations were less than $250. (In fact, in April, the campaign had set an overall fund-raising goal of $800 million, a number it seemed to walk back slightly at the retreat, a strategic lowering of expectations in order to far exceed them.)

Mr. Zwick also explained just what $2 million could buy in the final stretch: Nearly 3,000 30-second ads, for instance, or more than six million pieces of direct mail.

In fact, the Romney campaign has highly specific plans on how to spend whatever additional money it can rais e for the push until Election Day. Nearly two-thirds of its fund-raising will go to ad spending, with the other third helping with voter contact and get out the vote initiatives. A small percentage will go to digital outreach.

Between sessions in the lobby, the mood was light-hearted and optimistic, evidence perhaps that Mr. Romney's team feels the Oval Office is truly within reach. Donors were buoyed by Mr. Romney's strong performance in his first debate against President Obama, and were looking forward to Tuesday night's rematch, which they planned to watch at the Roseland Ballroom, where Dennis Miller would provide comic entertainment.

Surveying the scene, Mr. Johnson smiled and said he expected that after Mr. Romney won, he would come back and stay at the Waldorf when he had to be in New York for official business.

Then, he paused and reconsidered. “Actually, he's so cheap, he'll probably still stay at the Courtyard Marriott,” he concluded.

Follow Ashley Parker on Twitter at @AshleyRParker.