Romney's ability to compete against Obama's growing organization has become a selling point on the trail.
"As Republican primary voters in Illinois, we have an opportunity to look at the field of candidates, and look at them and say, 'Who can go toe-to-toe not just with Barack Obama, but the Chicago machine that is his operation?'" Rep. Aaron Schock, a top Romney supporter in Illinois, said recently. "We cannot afford to nominate someone on our ticket who cannot withstand the barrage, who does not have the organizational strength and fortitude to go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama."
Obama's massive campaign is part of what drives supporters to give money to "super" political action committees popping up this election cycle. Major super PACs like American Crossroads, which supports Republicans, and Restore Our Future, which supports Romney, have tens of millions of dollars apiece to help, thanks to federal court rulings that have stripped campaign-finance rules to allow unlimited — and, at times, effectively anonymous — donations from billionaires, corporations and labor unions.
"As a general rule, the big institutional money goes inordinately to incumbents regardless of party, while outside money plays the role of balancing out the party in power or stopping a specific initiative," Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio said. GOP-leaning super PACs have spent more than $50 million on TV ads this election; Crossroads is largely waiting to spend its money until the general election.
Whatever the case, the Democrats' current financial advantage is something Obama's campaign isn't taking for granted. Obama changed course last month in his criticism of super PACs and began encouraging big-money supporters to give to Priorities USA Action, a group working in his favor.
The Republican Party has opened offices in three states this month and plans to expand to four others in April.
Gillum reported from Washington.
Follow Jack Gillum at http://twitter.com/jackgillum and Steve Peoples at http://twitter.com/sppeoples