The third week in August found three would-be 2008 GOP nominees campaigning for contributions and friends in Orange County, Calif.: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, his Virginia colleague George Allen, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Each has a following, and each brings significant advantages to a race that includes two other top-tier candidates, former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and of course Sen. John McCain, a frontrunner in media eyes but perhaps last in the love of his party's faithful.
Amid a gaggle of events and gatherings one stood out: a Romney event on Aug. 18 at a coast resort. Nearly 1,000 people showed up and Romney's CommonwealthPac garnered more than $1 million. The locals were stunned: Where did that come from?
Romney's performance at the state's semi-annual GOP Convention in Century City on Aug. 20-he received a rousing standing ovation following his keynote address and kudos as well from the arch-conservative California Republican Federation-kept the political buzz mounting. One local congressman remarked that Romney "is the most gifted politician I've ever met."
Patient, persistent Bill Frist remains a compelling candidate in small groups, and he has a huge stage on which to work for another three months. Frist's VolPac is busy extending the same sort of assistance to Republicans that Romney is delivering, as are McCain and Giuliani. Frist is also the candidate best positioned to pick up faith-based voters uneasy with Romney's sincere Mormon commitment.
But the impression is growing of significant Romney momentum among Republican elites and grassroots alike, and some pros compare Team Romney's prowess to George Bush's organizational edge in 1999. Now that the internet has changed profoundly the nature of grassroots, no campaign can play a waiting game.