Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign fundraisers in Portland and Seattle raked in an estimated $4.5 million Monday, surpassing the amount raised at any other recent event Romney has attended in the region, his longtime friend and Camas resident David Nierenberg said by phone Wednesday.
Nierenberg, who has known Romney for 35 years and considers the presumed GOP nominee his mentor, also took time to reflect on Romney's campaign so far and discuss when the former Massachusetts governor might be back in the area.
Romney's visit to the Northwest brought him to five separate fundraisers Monday -- three in Portland and two in Seattle -- with Nierenberg along for the ride. The estimated $4.5 million raised at the five events is more than seven times the amount he's received in the past five years, Nierenberg said. He also is Romney's fundraising chair for the Northwest region, which includes Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
"To put it in perspective," Nierenberg said, "(President Barack) Obama came to the Pacific Northwest on his fundraising tour three weeks ago. He only raised $3 million, and he's the incumbent."
Nierenberg attributed the recent influx of campaign donations to the assumption that Romney is now the clear GOP nominee to run against Obama. He also said disappointing employment numbers and the country's debt could be turning more people away from the current president.
"Unemployment numbers are horrible," he said. "They are probably the worst numbers for young people since the Great Depression."
The nation's two biggest domestic priorities should be stimulating private-sector job growth and "intelligently reducing the cost of federal government so that we stop growing our national debt," Nierenberg said.
Nierenberg, 59, worked for Romney for seven years at Bain & Co., a consulting firm. Nierenberg is now a financial consultant and investor.
"He was my first boss," Nierenberg said, touting Romney's accomplishments in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors. "I look at him as the most capable person that I've ever met. … I think that he has developed exactly the skills that the president needs that address the two most important domestic priorities."
Nierenberg said the roller coaster of a campaign Romney has had means he is well tested, seasoned and ready to compete against Obama. Throughout the campaign, Romney often led the pack ahead of other GOP candidates, but challengers, such as Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, cycled through to test his lead.
It's also possible that the GOP infighting could have harmed Romney, Nierenberg said. For example, Gingrich was the one to first attack Romney's involvement in Bain Capital, an asset management firm, and now Obama's campaign has run with that criticism.
Additionally, "there have been other issues raised during the Republican primaries that I think have not helped the party," Nierenberg said, especially when it comes to women voters and with immigrants or people who are descended from immigrants, he added.
In the five months left this election season, Nierenberg said, one of Romney's biggest challenges will be that "it's hard to unseat a sitting president, because everybody knows him and because the presidency has such enormous power and visibility," Nierenberg said. "It's not often that an existing president running for re-election isn't returned to office. … Usually when it does, it happens because the American economy is preforming badly."
Recent national media reports indicate that Obama's criticism that Bain Capital cared more about its investors than its everyday employees might be working to persuade voters against Romney in some key battle-ground states. But Nierenberg, a former investor at Bain, said he doesn't see Romney's involvement with the company as a bad thing.
"I think that Bain Capital was not a negative at all for Mitt; rather, it demonstrates that he really does understand how the economy works and how the private sector works in a way that President Obama and most members of his cabinet do not," Nierenberg said.
Nierenberg said he doesn't expect Romney to be back in the metro area until after Labor Day, because the candidate will need to focus his efforts on highly competitive states such as Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
In the meantime, the Northwest could see visits from Romney's wife, Ann Romney; other members of the Romney family; prominent supporters such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie; and even Romney's future running mate.
Romney remains tight-lipped on who that running mate will be, but the presidential candidate said Monday that the single most important criterion "must be competency to govern the nation well, from the moment that they become president," Nierenberg recalled.
On the protests that took place outside Monday's fundraisers, Nierenberg said the protesters were peaceful, the police were well-organized and, "The main thing that one could want in a democracy is that people do have the right to disagree."
In Portland, roughly 30 protesters from union groups, Planned Parenthood and Occupy Portland demonstrated outside fundraisers. In Seattle, about a dozen protested outside of the fundraisers, which took place in private homes, Nierenberg said.