SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - Mitt Romney scrambled on Monday to raise campaign cash to help him fend off the lingering challenge from rival Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination, and he acknowledged that the battle could extend into June.
The Republicans’ extended race to find a challenger to President Barack Obama is sucking up more time and donors’ money than expected, possibly weakening the eventual nominee at the November 6 general election.
Romney opened a two-day California blitz to raise money at five events, attending fundraisers in San Diego and the San Francisco area on Monday and then Stockton, Irvine and Los Angeles on Tuesday. He heads to Texas later in the week to raise funds.
Despite concreting his role as front-runner in recent weeks, Romney is still spending time raising primary campaign money for his battle against Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul instead of focusing on funds for a general election contest against Obama.
Speaking to supporters in San Diego, Romney suggested he could still be battling for the nomination by the time California’s primary rolls around on June 5.
“So I come to you a little before the California primary - not until June - but I need you guys to get ready, to organize your effort, to get your friends to vote, to collect some money from campaign contributions. We’ve got a ways to go,” he said.
Romney’s efforts to raise money for the prolonged primary race is one of the downsides to the lengthy nominating battle, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at the Southern Illinois University.
“Instead of focusing on Obama, he’s having to spend time doing this. The upside is it does help him build a donor base for the general election and while many in the political community - media and operatives - don’t like the long race, voters in these later states enjoy it,” he said.
“Romney’s got to hope his work in these states is helping him build organization, momentum and interest for November.”
The bitter battle between Romney and Santorum has been particularly costly, as the former Massachusetts governor spends heavily on attack ads against his rival.
Romney and his backers spent money more quickly in February than they took in, ending last month with less than half the cash they had at the end of the year and trailing far behind Obama’s war chest.
Romney’s campaign raised $11.5 million in February, according to financial disclosure forms filed last week, but spent $12.2 million.
Restore Our Future, the outside “Super PAC” supporting Romney, took in $6.4 million but also spent $12.2 million, much of it on advertisements attacking his rivals.
The California money-raising events included some of the big names of the Republican Party in the state, such as former eBay Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman, who lost the 2010 governor’s race to Democrat Jerry Brown.
Norm Ornstein, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said Romney may be finding it difficult to raise money from small donations.
“The interesting question for me is I don’t see Romney building a base of small donors. I see him having to rely very heavily on the Super PACs,” Ornstein said.
Romney’s campaign has so far raised $7.5 million from donors who have given less than $200. That amount accounts for only 10 percent of his fundraising, a portion that has roughly remained the same throughout the campaign.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, has relied on small donors for about 52 percent of his funds, so far receiving $8.1 million from them.
Romney used his San Diego speech at NuVasive, a company that produces devices for spinal surgery, to attack the healthcare overhaul that Obama steered through the U.S. Congress and which is now subject to a Supreme Court case on its constitutionality.
The healthcare law, said Romney, will increase regulation and costs on companies like NuVasive, forcing them to pay more in taxes and hire fewer workers as a result.
“The taxation burden and the regulatory burden that the president’s people have put in place has slowed down the recovery, and made this most tepid recovery from a recession that we’ve seen since (1930s President Herbert) Hoover,” said Romney.
Romney has vowed to repeal the Obama healthcare law if elected and has defended himself against Santorum attacks that the overhaul he developed for Massachusetts is little different from the Obama plan.
Additional reporting by Alina Selyukh and Patricia Zengerle in Washington. Editing by Alistair Bell; Desking by Lisa Shumaker