Some believe that the GOP nomination for president will be clinched in the next few months. The clincher, as it is with so many things, will be cash. In 2007 most candidates experienced a major bump in campaign contributions during the second quarter. The bump was not equaled except in the campaigns of those candidates who were successfully nominated.
Utah is expected to deliver huge bags of cash to Mitt Romney and John Huntsman. In 2007-2008 Utah residents (a state with less than 1% of the population of the US) donated 11% of the money Mitt Romney received from private donors. The top zip code for donations to Romney’s 2008 presidential bid was 84604 (Provo Utah) where the haul was almost 30% greater than the next highest (06830, Greenwich CT). For all other candidates the donations from Utah mirrored Utah’s tiny population size.
One of the things that makes the Utah financial support for Romney interesting is that Utah’ns generally do not contribute to political candidates. There are not state limits on contributions, and state elections do not generally involve the use of a robust two-party system. John Huntsman is recorded as running a successful gubernatorial campaign on just $150,000.00 dollars in individual contributions (that’s right, just $150K). For this he needed just 130 donors. Because of the $2,300.00 (now $2,500.00) contribution limit for federal campaigns Romney had to pull in several thousand Utah donors.
Being a Mormon is the most significant plus for most Utah donors; though if Harry Reid ran for president the donations from Utah would be less than what we have seen for Mitt Romney. This same attribute is seen as a significant negative to donors in other parts of the country. To counter this the Mormon church has been pummeling media outlets with a multi-million dollar “I’m a Mormon” campaign. The campaign features people talking normal, or just looking normal, who then say “I’m a Mormon”. The campaign kicked into high gear co-incidental with the vital second-quarter contribution window.
Quentin L. Cook (Member of the LDS church’s Quorum of the Twelve) was quoted about the LDS church efforts to modify their image in a Deseret News article titled “Coverage of Romney's Mormon religion appears more fair than in '08” . He says the LDS church “visited the editorial boards of most of the major newspapers, starting with the Boston Globe, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and all across the country” with suggestions about how to properly talk about Mormons.
The bill for the New York campaign was about a million bucks. One of its features was a 40 foot digital billboard in Times square playing “I’m a Mormon” clips on infinite loop. New York was specifically targeted because the playing of “The Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway was seen by the LDS church as an “enormous opportunity”.
The effort by the LDS church is a foray into anti-negative politics. On the face of it the effort is a welcome relief from Rove-Boat attack politics. It is wonderful to imagine an election where third party money is spent on erasing a candidate’s negatives rather than inventing negatives for his opponent. However, the impulse for religions to create general attacks on atheists in order to craft a positive image for themselves may be too tempting.
I can’t help thinking that if Trey Parker and Matt Stone had not been beaten down by the Scientologists we could be talking about a scientology presidency. Tom Cruise?
I don’t think that the positive flavor of this initial campaign interest is indicative of the all the tricks in Utah’s political strategy bag. After the Utah’s successful venture into Californian politics with proposition 8 we may be ready for the national stage.