(CNSNews.com) - The unexpectedly large fundraising total raised by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in the first quarter of 2007 had less to do with a "Mormon network" than with the former Massachusetts governor's business acumen and strong ties with the financial community nationwide, according to political analysts.
Despite lagging behind his more well-known top-tier Republican primary challengers in opinion polls, Romney amassed $23 million in the January through March period. By contrast, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani raised about $15 million and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) just over $12 million.
The Romney campaign credits an "innovative" and "aggressive" fundraising effort targeting all 50 states and drawing from broad based support. However, his achievement also stoked some speculation that the Mormon Church may be seeking to exert a disproportionate influence on Romney's presidential bid.
The New York Times reported Utah residents accounted for about 15 percent of contributions to the Romney campaign, which it claims is more per capita than any other state.
There are just over five million Mormons in the U.S., Massie Ritsch, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics told Cybercast News Service. It would take about 9,100 Mormons contributing the maximum allowed amount of $2,300 each to raise $20 million of the $23 million Romney acquired.
"I don't think this is what's happening," Ritsch speculated. "Like other groups in America only a small fraction of Mormons are probably contributing. I think it's more likely the money is coming from private equity groups and the investment community."
Publicly filed reports will not be available until April 15.
Although, there is a "network" of Mormon supporters in Utah and other states working to boost the Romney campaign, they do not, standing alone, fully account for the success Romney has enjoyed thus far in fundraising, observes Larry Sabato, director of the Center of Politics at the University of Virginia.
"There is a lot of truth to the idea of a Mormon network," Sabato said. "But so what?"
Candidates who have strong identities with certain religious or ethnic groups have traditionally drawn from those sectors in American politics, he added. Catholics supported John F. Kennedy is substantial numbers when he ran for president just as Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) drew from the Jewish community in his political races, Sabato further explained.
This assessment is shared by Kelly Patterson, a political science professor with Brigham Young University, who has examined fundraising issues. All major candidates draw from a "core constituency" for both moral and financial support he argued. But in Romney's case Patterson sees a level of sophistication at work tailored to suit the unique challenges of campaigns in the 21st century.
"Campaigns must resemble small to medium sized corporations with clear lines of authority and technical expertise," he said. "Coming into this process with a sense of how to run a business can only help."
Romney is widely credited with salvaging the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, which was previously "mired in scandal and debt," Kevin Madden, the Romney campaign's national press secretary told Cybercast News Service. Utah will remain a "top state" for the candidate, Madden said, because the "remarkable turnaround" Romney orchestrated made a strong impression on local residents.
"He's a businessman first and a politician second," Sabato pointed out. "When you look at the key factors behind his successful fundraising I would stress the business connections. That's the major source of his support."
Jim Davids, an assistant dean at the law and government schools at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., told Cybercast News Service that there is another important factor that works to Romney's advantage: character.
Unlike some of the other contenders in the Republican field, Romney has been a successful family man committed to the same wife for over 30 years, with several children, each of them married, with their own children, Davids pointed out. These are qualities that conservative Christians look for in a candidate, he said.
"When it comes to character you look to see if someone has good management of his family and if he has self-control," Davids added. "If so, he can be looked on for a role in a greater group capacity."
Jane Junn, a political science professor with the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University in New Jersey, noted strategic advantages enjoyed by governors in recent presidential election. She also dismissed early poll results, saying they are driven mostly by name recognition.
Sabato agreed, calling current national polls "irrelevant." He said he places more stock in polls conducted in key states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
A new Zogby International poll shows Romney surpassing Giuliani in New Hampshire and moving into a tie with McCain.
Madden, the campaign's national press secretary, suspects Democrats are becoming unnerved about Romney's potential appeal in a general election. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has been putting out 30 press releases a month attacking Romney's record in Massachusetts, Madden told Cybercast News Service.
Romney has also positioned himself well on the Internet, and that helps to attract younger voters, Richard Davis, a political science professor with Brigham Young University, said in an interview.
"He's using the new media in a way unusual for a Republican candidate," Davis said.
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