Sara Murray and Patrick O’Connor | How Race Slipped Away From Romney

But in the eyes of top aides in both campaigns, that early summer period when Mr. Romney was busy fundraising was perhaps the biggest single reason he lost the election.

The Obama campaign spent heavily while Mr. Romney couldn’t, launched a range of effective attacks on the Republican nominee and drove up voters’ negative perceptions of Mr. Romney.

The problem: Mr. Romney had burned through much of his money raised for the primaries, and by law, he couldn’t begin spending his general-election funds until he accepted the GOP nomination late in the summer.

The money crunch didn’t totally take the Romney camp by surprise. Long before Mr. Romney secured the nomination, his closest advisers began plotting what it would cost to wage an effective campaign against Mr. Obama in the general election. Mr. Zwick, his finance chief, assumed the best way to handle cash needs would be to raise money from private donors, rather than accept the public financing the government offers presidential candidates, advisers said.

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