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Perry backs Gingrich, but his donors may prefer Romney

January 19, 2012|By Melanie Mason and Matea Gold
  • Campaign workers Ryan Vise, left, and Lucas Baiano remove a sign following a news conference in North Charleston, S.C., Thursday, Jan. 19, 2012, where Rick Perry announced he is suspending his campaign.
Campaign workers Ryan Vise, left, and Lucas Baiano remove a sign following… (David Goldman / Associated…)

In endorsing Newt Gingrich's presidential bid, Rick Perry may have thrown some votes over to the former House Speaker in the upcoming South Carolina primary. But it's no guarantee that the Texas governor's financial backers will follow.

While many of Perry's evangelical Christian donors in Texas could find Gingrich appealing, fundraisers from the establishment wing of the GOP are more likely to gravitate to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Indeed, two top Perry fundraisers—Mississippi-based political strategist Henry Barbour and Dirk Van Dongen, a lobbyist who co-chaired the governor's fundraising efforts in Washington--signed on to the Romney camp Thursday.

"Most people I'm talking to seem to be ready to go to Romney," Barbour said. "Newt's impressive, but I don't think he can win the White House. Look, this is about winning in November and I think Gov. Romney has the best chance to win. If we don't win in November, we're wasting our time."

Barry D. Wynn, a South Carolina fundraiser who left Perry's campaign to raise money for Romney two weeks ago, said he and other members of the finance team were turned off by Perry's attacks on Romney's business record. He noted that Gingrich has been even more vehement in his criticism of Bain Capital, the private equity firm that Romney led.

"I know it's seductive for politicians to attack Wall Street, but the crowd that was raising money for Perry, they are Wall Street," said Wynn, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party. "They are oil, energy, private equity. I don't think they're going to be comfortable being part of the Gingrich campaign when he's leading this populist campaign against Bain."

Romney has already scored the support of veteran GOP fundraiser Fred Malek, a Perry admirer who had remained neutral for much of the primary because of his work raising money for the Republican Governors Assn. In late November, he quietly joined Romney's national finance committee.

Malek said he now expects most Perry fundraisers to do the same.

"I do think people are now going to feel the freedom to go where they want to go and I don't see many of them backing Gingrich because they picked an executive to begin with in Perry, and we're getting to the serious point now and they want to win," he said.

A Perry fundraiser seconded Malek's prediction. "I'd very surprised if any of the DC types followed [Perry] over to Gingrich," the fundraiser, who did not want to be named, said.
"It's possible, but those that know Newt the best in the Republican party are the ones most apoplectic about notion of him being president."

But Rick Tyler, a longtime Gingrich aide who is now running a "super PAC" on his behalf, insisted some major Perry donors would back that effort.

"I am confident we will pick up a significant number," said Tyler, adding that it was too early to say how many.

Staff writer Tom Hamburger contributed to this report.

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