Jeb Bush has quickly and efficiently been locking in one of the most sought-after prizes of the early Republican presidential primary race: Mitt Romney’s donor network.
In the two weeks since the former Massachusetts governor announced that he wasn’t going to run again for president, Bush has aggressively scooped up key former Romney contributors in the private equity and investment worlds. That adds to Bush’s own substantial network in place before Romney’s brief flirtation last month.
“It’s absolutely a kind of aggressive shock-and-awe strategy to vacuum up as much of the fund-raising network as you possibly can,” said Dirk Van Dongen, the president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors and a prolific Romney fund-raiser now helping Bush. “And they’re having a large measure of success.”
Chicago investment manager Muneer Satter, who was cochairman of Romney’s national finance committee, is hosting a fund-raiser on Wednesday for Bush in Chicago. Emil Henry, a senior treasury official in the George W. Bush administration who was among Romney’s largest fund-raisers, recently agreed to raise money for Bush.
“I am certain that the majority of Romney’s major donors and fund-raisers will line up with Jeb, whose early organization is impressive,” Henry said.
Of Romney’s top five lobbyist bundlers in 2012 — who each raised at least $1 million — four are supporting or likely to support Bush. The fifth is on the fence.Matea Gold writes at The Washington Post:
Bush’s press for dollars has been so intense — averaging one fundraiser a day — that his Republican competitors do not even claim they can compete at his level and acknowledge that he is the unrivaled financial leader.
“Are they raising a lot of money? Yeah,” said Ray Washburne, a Dallas real estate developer who is heading efforts to solicit contributions for Gov. Chris Christie’s new political action committee. “We’re in the making-friends stage.”
“Everybody says, ‘Bush, but I like Walker,’’ or ‘Walker, but I like Bush,” said one senior party figure, who declined to be named to describe private conversations with donors. “I don’t hear anyone saying Christie.”
“Gov. Bush will get the majority of the money here, the big money,” said Theresa Kostrzewa, a lobbyist in North Carolina who backed Romney in 2012 and is now supporting Bush. “And Gov. Walker will get a fair share. But I think the interest in Gov. Christie was fleeting.
“For people in North Carolina, it’s like going on a date with the high school football star and you’re wowed, but then it’s not deep enough to form an attachment,” she said. “Then when he’s been stumbling, what little attachment there was has fallen away.”
The signs of Christie's decline are subtle but telling as Republican strategists, operatives and donors are trying to determine which candidates to back early in the 2016 process. New Jersey State Sen. Joe Kyrillos, who chaired Christie's 2009 gubernatorial campaign, attended a small dinner with Jeb Bush and some of Bush's supporters last month and refused to commit to Christie in an interview with the Newark Star-Ledger after the dinner.
Appearing on Fox News, influential conservative columnist Charles Krauthhammer recently predicted Bush, Walker or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio would win the nomination, leaving out Christie, who is courting many of the same moderate Republicans as those three.
Gary Kirke, who was part of a group of Iowa Republicans unsatisfied with Mitt Romney and who flew from the state to Trenton to implore Christie to run four years ago, says he is now open to supporting other candidates. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who had also unsuccessfully pushed Christie to run in 2012, attended a luncheon in support of Bush this week, according to the New York Observer.