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. harrisonhits2

    The pre-election corruption is in full swing already.

    March 30, 2014 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  2. Dave

    GOP 2016 hopefuls address big donors in Vegas


    Republicans cannot win without spending billions of 1% loot on negative ads full of lies.

    When the public despises you, but you are too arrogant to accept minority status, just collect those big lobbyist checks and call working class voters lazy.

    Oh, and guess what, you'll still lose the midterm election.

    March 30, 2014 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  3. 1776usa2016

    GOP politicians courting special-interest billionaires.

    I'd have never guessed.


    March 30, 2014 11:02 am at 11:02 am |
  4. Graeme from Ottawa

    bought and payed for politicians, we are all insane!

    March 30, 2014 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  5. ?!?wut?!?

    The difference between the Democrats and teapublicans, where raising money is concerned from wealthy donors, is that the Dems present the donor with facts, not lies and fairy tale dreams that they want financed.

    March 30, 2014 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  6. paul reynolds

    Yes – Republicons are so "Christ"ian, because surely Jesus himself would be "worshipping other Gods before me" and bowing to kiss the Ring of the Rich Man.

    Jesus also would be cutting or repealing Food stamps, Healthcare, Social Securities for the elderly – and giving more record tax cuts, profits and leverage to the top 1% wealthiest – who already control 72% of ALL wealth!

    March 30, 2014 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  7. Paul Vondra

    Always sad watching the hopefuls of the first corporate/capitalist party and/or the second corporate/capitalist party going hat in hand to the 0.001% looking for a sponsor.

    March 30, 2014 11:09 am at 11:09 am |
  8. Matt

    The one percent decides who we vote for, is this really democracy?

    March 30, 2014 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  9. FrankinSD

    Good thing for Adelson there are no women in the GOP field. If there were, his rump would be covered in lipstick AND slobber.

    March 30, 2014 11:21 am at 11:21 am |
  10. Jim Rome

    There's only one thing standing in the way of Republicans turning around the negative spin about their campaign. Integrity.

    March 30, 2014 11:24 am at 11:24 am |
  11. peterz

    Chris could not win. Whom was beyond him. Could GOP get one?

    March 30, 2014 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  12. Jolat

    Republicans have to fight against the hundreds of millions spent by liberal 1%er's like George Soros. And before you hypocrites keeps quacking, remember that 8 of the top 10 wealthiest politicians in Washington are Democrats. That being said, John Kasich has the most potential. He's the one who balanced the budget back in the 1990's.

    March 30, 2014 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  13. Robert

    Buy an election. Amazing to see the party that gave us Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt (any GOP recall his campaign against robber barons? – evidently not), Eisenhower is now resorting to buying power. Go and abase yourselves folks and hopefully your noses won't look too brown.

    March 30, 2014 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  14. peterz

    As long as Tea party still not gone. GOP could not win presidential election.

    March 30, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  15. Loathstheright

    Go figure, a Republican pandering up to billionaires, wow, who could of thought of that.

    March 30, 2014 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  16. Lenny Pincus

    "Yeah I just spent a fantastic weekend in the occupied territories partyin' wit my guy Russell Crowe 'cause his new movie Noah came out–which is a gas–so I intro'd him to my Joisy mafia and we spent the day haltin' traffic comin' in and out of dis camp for Pallys."

    March 30, 2014 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  17. mickinmd

    Anyone who thinks it's just the GOP that courts and bows to the very wealthy is fooling himself – the GOP just does it more.

    But unless Americans start protesting in the streets over government corruption from both parties, what little we have left of democracy – and it's a joke now – will be gone.

    March 30, 2014 11:52 am at 11:52 am |
  18. BlindingFlashOfTheObvious

    As long as the Republicans continue to court the fastest shrinking voting demographic, aging white males, and continues to ignore or legislate in a way that offends the two fastest growing voting demographics, women and minorities, it won't matter who they nominate. The Presidential Campaign will continue to be a Quixotic journey for a soon to be irrelevant Party...

    March 30, 2014 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  19. Lizzie

    Wow, all the liberals having a hizzy fit about politicians in Vegas, but applauded Pres.Obama during the Benghazi debacle to fly to Vegas on the Taxpayers dime for a fundraiser.

    March 30, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  20. peterz

    Chris could not win. Chris had failed to build his government administration, a failure key. Bush administration still a cost to taxpayers.

    March 30, 2014 12:02 pm at 12:02 pm |
  21. DJ

    It's nice of them to show us who shouldn't be in office or who not to vote for. Not interesting in someone so out in the open about being bought and paid for.

    March 30, 2014 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  22. Not Too Hard To Understand

    It takes money to win elections. It also takes sound ideas that are supported by the people. The GOP fails woefully short with the latter.

    March 30, 2014 12:05 pm at 12:05 pm |
  23. Bobby Ray

    If one of these candidates is "conservative" enough for Sheldon, they will NOT be a good President. Gingrich was SA's first choice last time. Which cartoon character will he bankroll (buy) next? The world awaits the name of one of the early dropouts in the GOP primary race..

    March 30, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  24. Brian

    So they met in private with Satan and he demanded their souls like he did with Bush W. Republicans will never be for the people or the country, just the ultra-rich elites.

    March 30, 2014 12:10 pm at 12:10 pm |
  25. Melinda Wallace

    I actually like Governor Christie and was willing to look past "Bridgegate", but going after billionaire's money
    for campaign finance is unforgivable. I have lost all respect for Christie.

    March 30, 2014 12:13 pm at 12:13 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8