Erin McPike (RealClearPolitics):
Mitt Romney's superior organization is helping him stave off Rick Santorum as the Republican presidential primary moves toward its later stages, despite a series missteps exemplified by this week's Etch a Sketch gaffe.
The front-runner's ability to amass financial resources, staff and elected officials in states across the country -- which amount, collectively, to his organization -- is often cited as the chief reason he will ultimately triumph over his GOP competitors and secure the nomination. Indeed, as he’s struggled to close the deal with Republican voters, it’s the resources he’s been able drawn upon on that have made the difference in primary after primary.
As the aide to one prominent Republican official who endorsed Romney -- and who helped draw out the vote in his very critical state -- said, the campaign “didn’t expect the primary to go on this long, and they needed fast, last-minute assistance.”
Endorsements haven’t helped the former Massachusetts governor in every single contest (such as Mississippi and South Carolina), but in a series of recent elections, endorsers have deployed their organizations to help put him over the top. Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman was a key example in the Buckeye State; Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock played a similar role for Romney in this week’s contest.
In that primary, poll numbers in Illinois showed the race narrowing one week before voters went to the polls. Once Romney knew he would coast to a win in Puerto Rico, the campaign sent him to the Land of Lincoln to lock down a victory there.
In an interview, Schock attributed Romney’s solid win to the time he spent in downstate Illinois. Schock pointed to two rallies in that region, including one on election eve in Peoria, as emblematic of the last-minute push that helped Romney turn out his voters.
But the driving reason those events were scheduled in the first place was this: When Schock endorsed Romney ahead of the primary season’s start, he traveled to some of the early states with Romney’s campaign and got to know some of the chief strategists, including Eric Fehrnstrom, Matt Rhoades and Stuart Stevens.
When the campaign moved to Illinois, top aides went to Schock and his team to learn what they should do and where they should go, then followed his advice to the letter.
Romney wound up winning the downstate area, which should have been a Santorum stronghold.
“I was very impressed by how they seek out local members of Congress for advice and then act on it,” Schock said of Romney’s staff.
The same was true in Ohio, where Portman helped Romney to a narrow one-percentage-point victory over Santorum by increasing his margins in Portman’s home base of Cincinnati and the surrounding suburbs -- another expected Santorum stronghold. Romney spent an entire day in the area the weekend ahead of Super Tuesday and used Portman’s organization and pull to maximum effect there. Romney had had a bare-bones organization in the state given the primary’s placement in the third month of contests, and he needed Portman’s support to mobilize the vote.
“It does make a difference,” said Romney spokesman Ryan Williams of the organizational heft that endorsements -- and the endorsees’ own organizations -- can bring.
“Endorsements are more than just names on a sheet of paper,” he said. “Where they can help is that there are certain surrogates where you can plug in their organization to the national campaign to draw out votes.” He pointed to Schock in Illinois, Portman in Ohio and Kelly Ayotte, the junior senator from New Hampshire.
As campaigning shifts into Santorum’s base of Pennsylvania ahead of its April 24 primary, Williams pointed to home-staters like Phil English -- a former congressman -- as political figures who can boost Romney’s organization. Romney also has the support of former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as well as Reps. Bill Shuster and Jim Gerlach.
It’s support like that -- and the extended networks behind these officials and former officeholders -- that can help Romney narrow the margins in areas where Santorum is naturally strong. And that will be crucial for him when voters in the Keystone State cast their ballots next month.