GOP 2016 hopefuls address big donors in Vegas
March 29th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
3 months ago

GOP 2016 hopefuls address big donors in Vegas

(CNN) - They may have their sights set on the White House, but Saturday they were in Sin City, talking up donation high rollers.

Several GOP leaders spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition's annual spring leadership meeting in Las Vegas, where some of the party's most influential donors and fundraisers meet to talk politics and policy.

 

The crowd drew big political names, many of whom are potential contenders for the presidential nomination in 2016: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Walker and Kasich, red governors in battleground states that voted for President Barack Obama last cycle, were received warmly, but it was Christie who appeared to have captured the audience's hearts, minds and, potentially, pocketbooks.

One of the biggest pocketbooks there belongs to prominent Republican donor and billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson, who has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting conservative candidates, met privately with all the presidential contenders, a source told CNN, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was at the summit earlier in the week.

Fresh off a scandal that has shaken up his administration, welcomed with a standing ovation, Christie came out swinging, positioning himself as a leader who can win on the national stage.

"As Republicans, you might be interested, once again, in winning elections. I know I am - and see, I'm not in this business to have an academic conversation. I am not in this business to win the argument. I am in this business to win elections. And here's why: Because when we win elections, we get a chance to govern," he said.

While his political ambitions have been bruised by the so-called “Bridgegate,” Christie was quick to point out what he learned from the experience.

“It’s about me being a lot more questioning about things that are going on, not to just trust based upon long-term relationships or past performances, and it’s about sending very clear signals… to not only the people who you serve, but to the people who serve with you, that certain conduct and actions are acceptable and certain are completely unacceptable,” he said.

Christie and some other 2016 contenders have exchanged barbs. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum took a not-so-veiled swipe at Christie at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference this year, saying principles were more important than wins.

Christie has made clear he disagrees, arguing he is a decisive leader who can get things done. That kind of leadership is missing in America today, especially at the White House, he says.

"When I say something, I mean it - and I am willing to do difficult things that will be perceived differently by some, and maybe even poorly by some. But if I believe it in my heart, and I believe it's what the people I lead need, then I'm going to do it without care or concern for the consequence," he said.

"In New Jersey, no one has to wonder whether I'm for them or against them. There's never really a cloud of indecision around what I say and what I do," he added later.

Christie's address focused mainly on that idea of leadership as well as domestic issues, but he dipped into foreign policy toward the end, especially when asked about his April 2012 trip to Israel.

It was while reflecting on how "overwhelming" and "extraordinary" that trip was that he caused a bit of a stir, using two words that some in the largely Jewish, pro-Israel audience took offense to.

"I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day," he said.

In response, there were some “audible murmurs” in the crowd, according to Time magazine’s Zeke Miller who was in the room.

The term "occupied territories" is a cause of dispute and controversy. Palestinians, along with the United Nations, consider the West Bank to be Palestinian, but under military occupation by Israel. Israel says that the land is "disputed," arguing the Palestinians do not have a legitimate claim to all of it.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, downplayed the concerns, telling CNN Christie "wasn't trying to set policy. He just misspoke in the moment."

Miller noted as well that Christie “was very well received, much more positive than the other governors.”

For all the talk of 2016 surrounding the speeches, one speaker was quick to push back.

"Any Republican who's talking about anything other than 2014 is doing a disservice both to the party and to the country," said Wisconsin’s Walker, who focused his speech on solutions the Republican Party can offer for the country's problems.

In particular, he praised the 29 Republican governors who, he says, have led the country on the road to recovery. Their success makes them better fit for the Oval Office, he said, adding that the next GOP presidential nominee must be someone "from outside Washington."

"If we want to have a strong America, if we want to have a healthy economy, look to the states - because in the states we're talking about growth and opportunity," he said.

"We're the ones at forefront of getting things done. We're the ones who make things happen," he said later.

Among those things, he cited turning a $3.6 billion budget deficit in Wisconsin into a near billion-dollar surplus, lowering the 9.2% unemployment rate by three points, and convincing people that the state is heading in the right direction: Ninety-five percent of Wisconsin business owners say so, he said.

"When you reform things, you make them more efficient, more effective, more accountable to the public," Walker added, arguing the GOP cannot be the party of austerity or "less," but of "more" - "more freedom, more opportunity, more prosperity."

Walker is up for re-election this fall after a bitter recall election in 2012. At the time, significant protests nearly shut down the state Capitol after Walker proposed a controversial bill that scaled back collective bargaining rights for most state workers and cut the education budget.

"Third time in four years running for governor - I'm getting pretty good at it," he said to laughs.

For Kasich, who is up for re-election this fall, the summit was a chance to talk domestic policy. In his address, he focused on his family and his record in the governor's office, highlighting the economic turnaround in the key battleground state.

"In Ohio, we're no longer fly over, Sheldon. We want you to come. We want you to invest. We want you to get to know us because Ohio really is the heart of it all, and it's a place of miracles - just think about the University of Dayton in the Elite 8 today," he said, referring to the NCAA college basketball tournament.

Kasich made repeated references and addresses to "Sheldon," talking as if he and Adelson were chatting at an intimate affair.

–CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.


Filed under: Chris Christie • John Kasich • Scott Walker • Sheldon Adelson
soundoff (181 Responses)
  1. Seth

    Even Billions won't help the GOP buy the White House. They're done.

    March 30, 2014 06:25 pm at 6:25 pm |
  2. August

    As long as people realize that it's NOT just the repubs who court the money folks.....the dems are just a good at it.
    I'm just unhappy with both sides of this mess.

    March 30, 2014 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  3. TheSadTruth

    Rather than court the PEOPLE, the GOP trots to the big money trough, to bury their snouts in BIG MONEY. Typical.

    March 30, 2014 06:36 pm at 6:36 pm |
  4. barb'sbarb

    Yep - our political system at work - why not tell the truth and put out signs in front of the Senate, House of Representatives, the White House, and all governor's offices and state legislatures -

    FOR SALE TO HIGHEST BIDDER

    politicians for sale....

    March 30, 2014 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  5. notogop

    Wouldn't it be terrible to have to lose a sense of moral direction to be in the political arena? It's hard for me to accept the open fact that political offices and politicians are bought and sold in an open market. Is this what democracy means, everyone and everything is for sale and supply and demand applies to political campaigns too? How long has it been since Truman was in office. We have truly fallen into a political cesspool in which slim and waste flourish. Very, very sad.

    March 30, 2014 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  6. Mike in Texas

    For the person who said Dems court Bill Gates. Bill Gates has donated about $450,000 do political campaigns since 1999. 54% to Democrats and 46% to Republicans. Sheldon Adelson spent $92 million dollars in 2012 alone to support Republican politicians. It ain't even close.

    March 30, 2014 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
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