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

[twitter-follow screen_name='politicalticker'] [twitter-follow screen_name='ConorCNN']

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. Tony in Maine

    Adellson must have a really big desk to get all those Republicans underneath it.

    March 29, 2014 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |
  2. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    And the Comedy Cavalcade gets ready to vie for the POTUS against Hillary Clinton... This is going to be must see TV!

    March 29, 2014 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  3. ChrisM

    All the little GOP lapdogs are running to their puppet masters. Slurp!!

    March 29, 2014 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  4. Jimmyjam048

    This could make a GREAT movie, but, "Idiocracy" is already taken.

    March 29, 2014 10:29 pm at 10:29 pm |
  5. chrispv66

    no surprise here...
    any white Republican hopeful (in 2016) would slobber at the prospect of being financed by a white billionaire, sharing the same narrow sighted/self centered qualities of course

    March 29, 2014 10:37 pm at 10:37 pm |
  6. biglio

    If any of these jerks gets elected you can kiss America goodby......each state they govern is a major mess......and if they are not worse it's because the federal policies from Obama...

    March 29, 2014 10:39 pm at 10:39 pm |
  7. chrispv66

    and what self serving/narrow sighted Republican hopeful for becoming President in '16 would NOT slobber at the mere prospect of being financed by a white billionaire....

    March 29, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  8. Anonymous

    well so far this republican can see no one worth voting for

    March 29, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  9. RandyKC

    Nice to see where their priorities are.

    March 29, 2014 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  10. grumpy0ldman

    If you are moderate enough to be accepted by the majority, you will not make it through the GOP primaries. The grand old party is dysfunctional

    March 29, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  11. jrm03063

    Apparently, the GOP candidates think that you lobby the guy with the most money – then just buy the votes.

    March 29, 2014 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  12. Dr Hattier

    In other terms a continuance of the status quo until there is another eruption from the stewing cauldron.

    March 29, 2014 10:52 pm at 10:52 pm |
  13. dondiego

    This pandering and sucking up to the wealthy and special interest groups is what's disgusting about the whole process of having our "leaders" selected.

    March 29, 2014 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  14. Hephastion

    Already the GOP are selling their souls...again?

    March 29, 2014 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  15. Larry38363

    This is what's wrong with our system. The rich shouldn't be able to get someone elected. The right wing, neo-Nazi SCOTUS created this problem and they need to correct it. You shouldn't be elected because you are rich or have rich backers, but because you are a statesperson! Our country is doomed if we continue with this insanity!

    March 29, 2014 11:04 pm at 11:04 pm |
  16. twalk

    Republican/teabaggers sold out to the millionaires and billionaires a long time ago. They are not for "We The People". They are for "The Few Billion/Millionaires".

    March 29, 2014 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  17. twalk

    Repu blican/teab aggers sold out to the milli onaires and billio naires a long time ago. They are not for "W e The Pe ople". They are for "The Fe w Billi on/Millio naires".

    March 29, 2014 11:29 pm at 11:29 pm |

    Yea dems dont care what our vets have done for our land ! They say it was un ness ry but they are still able to run that suk . ? Sometimes we have to fish to live . You got the easy answers oh ! Take up the az an smile ?

    March 29, 2014 11:30 pm at 11:30 pm |
  19. Jimh77

    What ever happened to real people running for office? When did it all become what circus it is today?
    America is so far behind all other Countries. We can't even paint lines on roads anymore. What's with that?

    March 29, 2014 11:33 pm at 11:33 pm |
  20. Peter Gerdeman

    The Dark Ages were not limited to 500 AD. They return. ALL of you, especially Adelson, are pathetic, sick, waste of the human condition – brought down by the sins of humankind – to the depths of discouragement, and despair.

    March 29, 2014 11:53 pm at 11:53 pm |
  21. Sid

    I am told they have a similar arrangement at Moonlight Ranch for their customers.

    March 30, 2014 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  22. Zach

    Politicians say that sucking up to rich people for money takes a huge amount of their time and they hate it..... yet if they hate it so much and that money is only for running for office, what is to stop them from passing campaign finance laws that prohibit anyone giving them large sums of money?

    You'd be amazed how much more your vote would count if nobody could donate more than 100 dollars and Super PACS were treated as the organized crime they are.

    March 30, 2014 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  23. Cted

    I think we get it. Message to underlings:

    Acceptable conduct – tying up traffic at Ft. Lee because the mayor didn't support your administration
    Unacceptable conduct – getting caught.

    March 30, 2014 12:14 am at 12:14 am |
  24. RadioUranus

    Republicans, as usual, solemnly swear that they, if elected - will do absolutely ANYTHING billionaires wish.

    March 30, 2014 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  25. Ron

    "Adelson, who has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting conservative candidates, met privately with all the presidential contenders...." Privately. So wonder which candidate bowed and scraped the most? Which one promised the most? In other words: he can buy any one of them. But he wants to see which one he can get the most out of for his money. Too bad that's the way the system now operates. No matter which party, the candidates have to spend most of their time raising money at the expense of developing and working on real solutions to real problems. And integrity? Sorry, out the window.

    March 30, 2014 12:23 am at 12:23 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8