posted 2012-03-07 18:41:36

Romney’s Wealth

An asset in the primary, a challenge in the general election

Phyll Pope, Contributing Writer


Mitt Romney is, by far, the richest candidate in the Republican Primary race. With a net worth of somewhere between 200 and 250 million dollars, he’s raised well over a hundred million additional dollars for his campaign. He’s spent much more than any candidate in the race. And yet Gingrich, with only a couple of solid debate performances—the most impressive involving his turning CNN moderator John King’s questions on his marital affairs into an issue of liberal bias in the mainstream media—beat Romney in South Carolina decisively, winning the state by more than 12 percentage points.

The debates have this wonderful equalizing quality about them; you do well during a debate, and it works as a positive ad in itself, one you won’t have to pay for. However, despite polls still showing Gingrich leading Romney by one point nationwide, Romney has stemmed the tide of Gingrich enthusiasm in the party in Florida, taking a once single-digit lead into double digits in less than two weeks.

David Brooks, the conservative columnist for the New York Times, and a commentator for PBS NewsHour, had this to say on the role of money in elections: “Yeah, I’m a skeptic about money in politics anyway at the presidential level... In local elections, a big money gap can make a huge difference. But, in a national election, with all this free media, I’m dubious.” In the Republican primary, a party that has become the most vehement spokesperson for corporations and the financial sys- tem, the negative comments made by other candidates about Romney’s wealth hold about as much water as Gingrich’s criti- cism of Bill Clinton regarding the sanctity of marriage. In other words, it isn’t likely that Romney’s wealth will be used effectively against him in the Republican Primary. But Brooks would suggest that it won’t be much of an asset for Romney either, and much of what’s happened so far does support that.

It is true that Romney did well during the debates, standing his ground with Gingrich, and outplaying him in the second one. But what is more startling (and more telling) is that Mitt Romney’s Super-PAC Restore Our Future has outspent Gingrich 5 to 1 in Florida, spending 17.5 million dollars in Florida alone! To put that in perspective, much was made of the Las Vegas casino and real estate mogul Shel- don Adelson’s $10 million contribution to the pro-Gingrich Super-PAC, Winning Our Future—the biggest single contribution to Gingrich so far this election year. But Mitt spent almost $8 million more in Florida alone. Fredreka Schouten of USA Today has reported that Restore Our Future aired 12,768 TV ads in Florida to Gingrich’s 210. I did the math: for every 1 pro-Gingrich ads people in Florida have seen on television, there have been 61 pro-Romney ones.

Despite David Brooks’ objections, and the anti-capitalist sentiment embodied in the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the fact is while a small margin between what each candidate in spending may not make much difference, the Gingrich campaign is being inundated by negative ads. The fact is, say anything to someone a hundred times, and it will stick with them to some degree. Wealth may indeed help Mitt win the Primary.

But unfortunately for Mitt, that huge wealth will be much more of an encumbrance than a benefit come gen- eral election time. Despite his surge in polls nationally, and most dramatically in Florida, his polling among independents had trended down, dropping from a high in the mid-40s in late November to a low of 23 percent last week, according to the Post/ABC News poll. The release of his tax returns showed that Romney, despite mak- ing 42.8 million dollars in income last year, only paid only 17% in taxes. That’s a lower rate than Warren Buffet paid in taxes, and he’s been crusading to get his tax rates (and the tax rates for people like him and Romney) over 30%. It also showed that Romney had much of his money stored in Swiss bank accounts. That’s right, just like every James Bond movie villain you’ve ever heard of.

Despite the fact that Romney’s low tax rate is absolutely legal, it highlights an issue that many people on the left, and many young voters have become adamant about: something is wrong with the tax system. It’s a fact that has been repeated in every ‘Occupy’ movement nationwide. Independent voters, who are typically the least politically knowledgeable of any electorate base, will look at Romney’s tax rate, look at their own, and say to themselves “that’s not right”. Why do I pay a higher tax rate than Mitt Romney? And when it the issue comes up in the debate, Romney often looks flustered. “I won’t apologize for my wealth,” Romney said at Thursday’s debate. Well, despite whatever Romney may say to try and dissipate these negative feelings toward his wealth, casting Romney as the rich outsider will be all too easy for Obama to do.

There has been a history of rich candidates and families that have done well in politics. The Roosevelt’s were a historically rich family, both when Theodore and when Franklin won the presidency. The Kennedy family has spawned multiple successful politicians, including John F. Kennedy, revered as one of our greatest leaders. However, there was something that these people had in common: they were likable, and they were relatable. Teddy and John were rich, yes, but they also served their country dutifully during critical American wars. Franklin’s affliction with Polio ne- gated any feeling that he was unreachable, unapproachable. These guys could all truly argue that they understood the common man and his problems.

Mitt Romney however remains easy to cast as the rich, snobby type. As the man who makes his money dividing the country up among his friends behind closed doors, while the rest of America suffers. He does not possess that inherent likeability that those other politicians have had and this, despite whatever success his wealth and his connections may bring him in the Re- publican primaries, will serve as nothing but a weight should he be given the chance to run against Obama in the General Election.