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Potential campaign donors appear undecided after Romney summit

Potential campaign donors appear undecided after Romney summit

(Sean Locke Photography/

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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PARK CITY — Mitt Romney's annual summit ended Saturday after giving the big-money donors who backed his presidential bid a chance to hear from six Republican contenders for the White House.

"I think the donors are excited we find ourselves in a situation where there's probably more than one candidate who could emerge who could beat Hillary Clinton," said Spencer Zwick, Romney's national finance chairman in 2012.

But Zwick said most of the corporate executives and investors at the Deer Valley summit, who contributed a significant share of the nearly billion dollars he raised for Romney's run against President Barack Obama, are still undecided about who to support in 2016.

So far, there are at least 15 Republicans lining up to take on Clinton, the former first lady, senator and secretary of state seen as the Democratic frontrunner who officially kicked off her campaign in New York on Saturday.

"I think many will wait a lot longer because the field is so scattered," said Zwick, a founder and managing partner of Boston-based Solamere Capital, which helped sponsor the three-day gathering headquartered at Stein Eriksen Lodge.

Romney, who has said he doesn't plan to endorse a Republican candidate until after the party makes its pick, "by and large thinks very highly of each one of them that came" and believes "they all have a path to do very well in the process."

Who showed up

Three of the 10 declared GOP candidates — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Silicon Valley executive Carly Fiorina — came to Utah to mingle with donors and the national media.

I think the donors are excited we find ourselves in a situation where there's probably more than one candidate who could emerge who could beat Hillary Clinton.

–Spencer Zwick, Romney 2012 campaign

Also there were three Republicans expected to join the race: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, scheduled to announce Monday, was invited to Utah but was in Europe.

Zwick said the other candidates who asked to attend the invitation-only summit but didn't make it were Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran against Romney in 2008.

Fiorina was the last of the contenders to address the group, telling them over breakfast that helping Americans utilize their "God-given gifts" to reach their potential is at the "core of the battle" in 2016.

"There is a deep disquiet in this nation," the former Hewlett-Packard CEO said, describing an ever-growing federal bureaucracy as "tangling people’s lives up in webs of dependence."

A 'very different than the Republican Party'

Each of the candidates spoke of the need to lift the lives of less-fortunate Americans, a message that Boyd Matheson, Sen. Mike Lee's chief of staff, said is key for the party.

Lee, R-Utah, has repeatedly called for a conservative war on poverty and has already met with Walker and other presidential hopefuls on the issue, Matheson said.

"I think a lot of the things Sen. Lee has been pushing out, you’re starting to see those themes because people are recognizing they resonate with the American people," Matheson said.


Kerry Healey, Romney's lieutenant governor when he served as governor of Massachusetts, said the Republican Party on display at the summit "is very different than the Republican Party of 2012."

She said there is a new focus "on lifting people out of poverty, of expanding the pie rather dividing the pie, and a lot of talk about education and many other issues that perhaps were left to the side in the last election."

It's important for the GOP, Healey said, to "let the American people know they want the votes of all of the people and that’s clearly what these candidates are going to be working toward."

Fraser Bullock, who served as chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Olympics under Romney, said he found Christie "extremely impressive," particularly the New Jersey governor's prescription for the party.

"He sincerely said that we need to capture the hearts of people before we can capture their thinking," Bullock said. "People want to know we care about them and bettering their circumstances before they will listen. He connected. He is right."

The summit marks the fourth time Romney has assembled his top contributors in the posh ski resort community. Besides candidates, the summits also feature political, policy and business leaders, as well as opportunities for fun.

Media access to the summit was tightly controlled, with access granted only to the speeches made by the 2016 hopefuls and Romney's Friday evening address on foreign policy. Other speeches and panel discussions were closed to reporters.

Reporters were, however, invited to join Graham at the Kamas Valley Lions Gun Club for some early morning skeet shooting Saturday, one of a number of activities offered to summit participants.

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Lisa Riley Roche


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