NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Add Chris Christie to the list of prospective candidates for president now taking donations, a group of Republicans that might ultimately top two dozen.
But for all the flurry of activity in the GOP race, set off last month by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and amplified by 2012 nominee Mitt Romney, some of the party’s most sought-after donors appear content to let things shake out a bit before making a commitment to any one candidate.
For many of the party’s biggest fundraisers, signing on with a contender is a two-year commitment that usually includes asking friends, family and colleagues for donations they can bundle into stacks of checks. It’s not a decision taken lightly, especially with a field so large and in a campaign where total spending is sure to be measured in the billions.
“I don’t think there’s this rush that everybody’s trying to create here,” said Fred Malek, a longtime GOP donor and finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
Interviews with more than a dozen donors and fundraisers across the country suggest many are choosing to hold back until they have a better sense of the field and get a chance to meet with the would-be presidents. The ranks of unaligned major donors include several top players in the party, including hedge fund investors Paul Singer and Robert Mercer, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
“It seems like there needs to be a little more clarity of who’s running before people make commitments,” said Barry Wynn, the former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party and a top GOP fundraiser. No candidate has formally entered the race, and several likely contenders — including Sens. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, as well as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — plan to wait until late spring or the summer to do so.
That’s not to say the work of raising money and making plans isn’t already underway. The political machine backed by the billionaire Koch brothers on Monday told their most-loyal supporters they intend to raise and spend close to $900 million during the 2016 campaign, a sum that would more than double what the Republican National Committee spent on the 2012 election.
Christie took his most decisive step yet toward a bid early Monday when he announced the formation of a political action committee, which will essentially serve as a campaign-in-waiting. Meanwhile, Romney has acknowledged privately he will decide whether to mount a third White House campaign in the near future, likely within the next two weeks, largely out of fairness to those who are waiting on him to make up his mind.
“I don’t think the state of play changes until Mitt decides what to do,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime GOP fundraiser from Virginia, who hosted a meet-and-greet for Christie last week but remains uncommitted. “Then you’re going to find that donors are really going to be pushed to make a decision.”
To be viewed as credible, candidates will be expected to raise the sort of money that powered Romney to the nomination during the last campaign. The former Massachusetts governor collected an average of $215,000 each day from the time he started raising money in 2011 until the start of 2012, a total that ended up at more than $57 million before the first votes were even cast.
Few doubt Christie’s ability to raise that kind of cash; he spent much of the last year collecting more than $100 million as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. Said Mike DuHaime, a senior adviser to the new Christie PAC, “We feel very comfortable we’re going to raise what we need.” Home Depot billionaire co-founder Ken Langone reiterated Monday that he’s eager to start bringing in cash for Christie.
Christie’s efforts will be challenged by Bush and, potentially, Romney. Former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, for example, is both Christie’s longtime political mentor and from a family with ties to the Bushes that reach back four generations. He also supported Romney in 2012.
“To me, it’s too early to make a choice until you know everybody who’s running,” Kean said. Aside from those with deep loyalties to a particular candidate, “An awful lot of the donors are just going to sit back and say, ‘Let’s see if they’re really serious. Let’s see how far they’re going into it,” he said.
Bush has been perhaps the most aggressive in trying to force such decisions. He recently invited Kean to a meeting along with other prominent New Jersey Republicans he’s trying to woo in Christie’s backyard. Kean declined to attend, citing a scheduling conflict.
For all the pressure from potential candidates on donors to make a commitment, Malek believes every serious contender will be able to raise enough money to mount a serious run. That’s due in part to the plans of many top donors to write checks to several candidates, just to play it safe.
Joshua Alcorn, a Democratic fundraiser who helped then-Sen. Joe Biden raise money for his unsuccessful 2008 primary, said he often saw some of his donors also appear on the campaign finance reports of Barack Obama, Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards.
“Bundlers like to hedge their bets a little bit, especially the establishment ones,” he said.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report. Elliott reported from Washington.
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