GOP 2016 hopefuls address big donors in Vegas
March 29th, 2014
08:19 PM ET
4 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. Brian

    Look at the last 10 presidential election funds for both sides. They both have billionaire donors. This is non news.
    Even Hillary Clinton already is worth 25+ million dollars. Most "lifetime politicians" already have a net worth of over 15 million dollars. To say it's just republican's that do this is ridiculous. And no... i'm not affiliated with the GOP. And yes I dislike Bush and the Iraq war (13 years ago) just as much as you.

    March 30, 2014 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  2. TM

    It's always easier to buy elections than to get voters to buy the story you're trying to sell.

    March 30, 2014 03:01 pm at 3:01 pm |
  3. Ted

    This guy is another establisment RINO. Rand Paul all the way in 2016.

    March 30, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  4. Karina

    No other western civilized country raises and uses such obscene high amounts as you do in America during elections.

    March 30, 2014 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  5. rick

    Dog and pony show to find the best string puppet.

    March 30, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  6. andrew

    GOP is all about money.

    March 30, 2014 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  7. jason

    wonder if christy played dead too

    March 30, 2014 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    Our election process is a sham any more. Sick and tired of both sides and their donors deciding who gets in the race. Shouldn't have to be wealthy to run for president. Wealthy people for the most part are out of touch with real people. Their not looking out for the people, only looking out for themselves.

    March 30, 2014 03:50 pm at 3:50 pm |
  9. Winston Smith

    Democracy to the highest bidder. Is it any wonder we're in the shape we're in? Will it ever stop? No. Why you ask. Because we, as a people mean nothing. It's corporations that mean everything today.

    March 30, 2014 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  10. Laurie

    "Adelson, who has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting conservative candidates,"...as a side note Adelson says he doesn't believe in buying favoritism from political candidates...and he believes that any political candidate that can be bought can also be trusted to do the right thing for America. While somebody please turn off the sarcasm font on my machine.

    March 30, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  11. Michael

    Doing what's important. For the people!!

    March 30, 2014 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  12. VEW2012

    That is the major problem the GOP courts billionaires and that is exactly the only group of people they represent.

    March 30, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  13. DickPerry

    Don't worry about it. The owners will decide who will be your next president. Its out of your hands.

    March 30, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  14. pchelp, Juneau, AK

    I truly encourage the GOP to stick to their principles. It's refreshing to see honest politicians (i.e. they stay bought) and even more refreshing when they fail to get elected. I'd rather have people who put the welfare of the people first, not the welfare of billionaires.

    March 30, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  15. Brian from DC

    If money alone could buy the White House then we'd have President Romney right now, but thankfully we don't.

    March 30, 2014 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  16. elltee

    Google Al Gore's net worth before stating "GOP is all about the money"

    March 30, 2014 05:27 pm at 5:27 pm |
  17. DCBuck

    BOTH parties are bought and paid for. Yet another example of how they are BOTH utter, abject failures, controlled by their lunatic fringe.

    March 30, 2014 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  18. GarryOwen

    Pigs at the trough.

    March 30, 2014 05:59 pm at 5:59 pm |
  19. Quixote

    They do not court voters, they do not court experts for advice, they court billionaires who might purchase them a government post.

    Billionaires with a specific agenda to put even more of other peoples money in their already hyper inflated bank accounts should not be who gets to chose our government.

    March 30, 2014 06:05 pm at 6:05 pm |
  20. Quixote

    Brian, perhaps basic math is difficult. A billion is a thousand million. Having fifteen or twenty million makes you rich, but it is not the same league as billionaires. Not even close.

    March 30, 2014 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  21. gahh

    None of these clowns stand a chance. Jeb is still a stinking Bush, Christi was found innocent, but it was by his own people, Rand Paul is a joke. Billionaires spend all the hundred of millions you want, just like you did in 2012 by giving all that money to Karl Rove, and it was all for nothing. You people never learn.

    March 30, 2014 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  22. jkthompson1

    This country is corrupt…and it starts from the Supreme Court on down. Democracy…the best government money can buy. What a sham.

    Our founding fathers would throw up if they saw what had become of their country.

    March 30, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  23. davidfarrar

    What you see here is the list of the 2016 potential Republican presidential candidates who are willing to sellout this county's sovereignty in Sheldon Anderson's amnesty primary to get their thirty pieces of silver.

    ex animo
    davidfarrar

    March 30, 2014 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  24. Politically Incorrect

    Here goes CNN with their "Republicans are of the evil rich" while turning the cheek to George Soros, Hollywood, and their own Ted Turner. Shut up, hypocrites.

    March 30, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  25. Moses

    All you who are downing the GOP you know of course the top three billionaires in the country donate Democratic. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Larry Ellison. Both sides do it but of course it's the GOP who is so BAD.

    March 30, 2014 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
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