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. buccabiscuit

    So apparently Dems don't court the likes of Bill Gates, the rest of the Microsoft brass, Buffet, Soros, unions and a very long list of other billionaire donors. It's only the Repubs that chase money from deep pockets. What a pukey byline.

    March 30, 2014 12:27 am at 12:27 am |
  2. Eric

    same ol same ol GOP not learning from anything courting the top one percent only alienates the rest

    March 30, 2014 01:24 am at 1:24 am |
  3. AR

    do the money dance!

    March 30, 2014 01:26 am at 1:26 am |
  4. Anton

    This is the problem with politics in America.

    The wealthy get what they want and the people get pee'd on (if they are lucky).

    I guess it is time for a revolution to overthrow the fat white guys and their cronies.

    March 30, 2014 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  5. futureVoter123

    they dont really need to do that right now cause who ever get the nomination will have the backing of the Koch Brothers anyways and that is basically like having a blank check

    March 30, 2014 01:41 am at 1:41 am |
  6. Michael Logan

    This is why we will never see any type of campaign reform. And this is why there will always be corruption as they continue to be bought by the wealthy. And this is irrespective of party. And 300 million Americans suffer as a result.

    March 30, 2014 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  7. For the Love of Money and Power

    So much for the "Gambling is a Sin." All of it out the door when trying to woo the casino king.

    March 30, 2014 02:14 am at 2:14 am |
  8. manhandler1

    "Puke"...describes the entire pathetic, sordid affair.

    March 30, 2014 02:27 am at 2:27 am |
  9. Thomas

    Sheldon Adelson ,

    All you can eat

    March 30, 2014 02:42 am at 2:42 am |
  10. Ramon F Herrera

    "Jewish Republicans"??? The expression should make the victims of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Sobibor, Treblinka , etc. turn on their graves....

    It is rewarding, however, that Jewish voters reject the Party of Intolerance with a degree of loyalty towards the Democratic candidates 2nd. only to Black folks.

    March 30, 2014 02:45 am at 2:45 am |
  11. Skip Glanz

    I guess the big buck donors like the idea of messing with the life of the working man like Christie's appointee's did. Close a couple of lanes and mess with the masses, who will care, not those with the deep pockets.

    March 30, 2014 03:10 am at 3:10 am |
  12. Rogue351

    Whomever donates a single penny to these American destroyers do not have your best interest in mind. They will bring war , hate, discrimination and fraud. They have proven it in the past. They have not shown one positive reason they are any different now. With the Tea Party running their show no one will be safe with them in office. Well unless you are white, male, rich and straight.

    March 30, 2014 03:26 am at 3:26 am |
  13. BO

    Hello, George Soros. Is that you?

    March 30, 2014 03:37 am at 3:37 am |
  14. Georgie Porgie

    Perfect! "2016 GOP Hopefuls" go after a few big money citizens ...and ignore the huge number of lower, middle and working class citizens. This brilliant politicking almost guarantees the GOP/Tea Party will NOT win the White House in the near future! ...Laughs!
    Hillary Clinton in 2016!!!

    March 30, 2014 04:01 am at 4:01 am |
  15. Mel Stricker

    Is anyone surprised that the GOP focuses on the rich? When did this become news? If you are not rich (as most of us are not) then expect nothing from Republicans. Tax cuts for the rich and taxes for the rest of us. Big contracts and money for the rich and no help of any kind for the rest of us.
    And what do the Republicans say? "We need smaller government so what we have to so is eliminate social programs.". But what the Republicans are really saying is, "We need to save money so we can give it to the rich by either direct payments or tax cuts."
    As with the Vega gathering, the rich have a friend in the Republican Party.

    March 30, 2014 04:01 am at 4:01 am |
  16. Georgie Porgie

    Seriously!?? If we left things up to the States ...Black People would still be in the back of the bus!!!

    March 30, 2014 04:04 am at 4:04 am |
  17. Georgie Porgie

    So, the GOP/Tea Party opposes raising the minimum wage, while courting billionaires!!???

    Well,'s that working for you?

    March 30, 2014 04:08 am at 4:08 am |
  18. TBone

    The clown car reloads.

    March 30, 2014 04:50 am at 4:50 am |
  19. zanny

    This is one of the slickest political candidate you will ever see. His million dollar lawyers report paid by the taxpayers of New Jersey was a crock. You talk about payback wow don't cross him, you never what's coming and I do not believe the American voter is that stupid to believe that his hands were not all over this situation. To fire someone and never ask what she did tells it all Slippery as an eel.

    March 30, 2014 04:54 am at 4:54 am |
  20. Funny

    Funny that Ohio Recovery is due to the Governor and nothing to do with the Auto Bailout , And Walker takes credit for bring unemployment in Wisconsin from 9 to 6.6% while bashing the POTUS for bringing the unemployment from 11.5 to 6.8%...

    March 30, 2014 05:17 am at 5:17 am |
  21. Ron

    Offering themselves to the highest bidder. Pathetic

    March 30, 2014 05:22 am at 5:22 am |
  22. ChrisM

    All the little GOP lapdogs are off to beg from their puppet master, Slerp!

    March 30, 2014 05:25 am at 5:25 am |
  23. Michael

    Seems apropos that the source of Republcan't money is a PUSHER selling daydreams to GAMBLERS!

    March 30, 2014 05:47 am at 5:47 am |
  24. jim4peace2012

    Candidates should be courting the American electorate.

    March 30, 2014 05:55 am at 5:55 am |
  25. Craiga

    I think Christie would have been a good candidate to raise the debate between the two parties to a more intellectual level. Unfortunately whether he is cleared of the traffic scandal or not I think it will be his showstopper for life. The real problem he has with that issue is that EVERYONE HATES TRAFFIC...HATES! If the people you work with and appoint to high level positions intentionally created massive traffic jams for huge numbers of people trying to get to work then your political career is done. Everyone hates traffic...everyone.

    March 30, 2014 06:11 am at 6:11 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8