Romney Camp Says He Leads GOP Presidential Bid

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's presidential campaign leaks a memo describing a new strategy toward victory for the Republican nomination. He leads in GOP fundraising, and while there's no lead candidate for the Republicans, Romney's camp says he's the front-runner.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's get an update now on the presidential campaign. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is in fourth place in polls among the Republicans, but a memo from his campaign says Romney is the frontrunner. We'll talk about the latest on the GOP race with NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

And Juan, how do you call yourself the frontrunner when you're averaging around 10 percent in the polls?

JUAN WILLIAMS: Well, Steve, the logic goes like this: Romney is leading his GOP rivals in Iowa by about an average of eight points; he leads in New Hampshire again by an average of about 10 points and has a slim lead in Nevada. These are small states with few delegates but they are the first states where primary voters will go to the polls, and Romney has the lead. So candidates who do well in the first events dominate press coverage, and usually then do well thereafter.

INSKEEP: And what this memo that says they're leading?

WILLIAMS: Well, Steve, the memo was written by a political strategist in the Romney camp, and its purpose is to give credence to the argument that despite trailing badly in the nationwide polls, Romney deserves to be viewed as a leading candidate. So Romney wants people, especially people in the early states, even if they are small states, to view him as the leader and to try to change his national image.

INSKEEP: We have to mention that outside of those early key states, Romney has mainly impressed people with the money he's raised.

WILLIAMS: You know, he has raised a lot of money. He's been very aggressive, though, in spending money on ads. Last week, Romney started airing ads also in South Carolina in addition to the ads he already has running in Iowa and New Hampshire. Political insiders, Steve, are wide-eyed at the rate of what he's burning money on early ads and building campaigns in those early states, but he's doing it, again, to let voters get to know him, to gain some name recognition, and betting that it will pay off for him.

The one undisputed lead Romney can claim is the lead in fundraising. He has pulled in more than 44 million. But about 20 percent of that is his personal money. And in the second quarter of fundraising, more than a third of his total came out of his own pocket. So he is having to put his own money in, but again its all frontloading his effort.

INSKEEP: Juan, no disrespect to Mitt Romney here, but is part of the issue is simply that the guys ahead of him in the polls all seemed to have weaknesses?

WILLIAMS: Well, I think that is the story, Steve. There's no candidate that's hot or even throwing off sparks on the GOP side right now. An Associated Press poll last week had 23 percent of GOP voters saying they don't have a candidate yet. I think it's fair to say the Republicans are a party without an '08 candidate.

So this is a very unusual season for Republicans, who usually have a leading candidate set for the nomination. But with no incumbent and their best known candidate, Senator McCain, struggling - his campaign having terrific infighting and people heading for the doors - the bench looks very bare at the moment.

INSKEEP: Any hearts of flame, as you put it, for Fred Thompson or Newt Gingrich?

WILLIAMS: Well, Thompson - he's having his own campaign troubles, but yes, he's attracting some attention. He has replaced his own acting campaign manager with two people - a veteran political strategist and former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham.

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich continues to show up in polls with support among the base of the party, and he wants to let voters know that if none of the above continues to lead in Republican primary polls, he's waiting, he's out there, and willing to be asked to jump in and save the day.

One last thing, Steve. For all the advantages that Democrats hold in its campaign cycle and with all the problems Republicans are having picking a candidate, Republicans do point to polls that shows that whoever can claim their nomination will see the party come together to support him and give him a chance to upset the Democrats. But to be that candidate, somebody has to win the nomination, and we're not there yet.

INSKEEP: NPR's news analyst Juan Williams. Juan, thanks.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Steve.

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