Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.), listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jacquelyn Martin / Associated…)
PARK CITY, Utah –One of the intents of Mitt Romney’s Park City, Utah, confab for his major presidential donors was to give them an up-close-and-personal look at the potential candidates to be the Republican party’s next presidential nominee in 2016. A way to do that was to take part in a series of sports excursions early Friday.
More than 20 conference attendees went skeet shooting with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan Friday morning, while others golfed with Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. Some spent the morning hiking up a mountain abutting the Deer Valley resort with Tagg Romney, Romney’s eldest son (who has said he is not interested in running for office).
John Miller, a close friend of Mitt Romney who served as his 2012 national finance co-chairman, said as Romney’s donors assessed the 2016 field this week, they were looking to "identify that this person is honest, has integrity, is a listener—somehow isn’t what some of us have in our minds as a typical politician—that they’re genuine,” Miller said.
Paul strolled downstairs in sneakers, khakis and a fleece at 6:30 a.m., before the shooting outing.
“Bow and arrow, or shotgun?” he asked a guide named Goose before loading the vans with the other guests.
“BBs,” Goose replied. And they were off.
The potential 2016 contenders had arrived at Romney’s gathering here one by one late Thursday evening, ushered by Romney’s finance chairman Spencer Zwick into a post-dinner cocktail party with many of the most powerful Republican donors of 2012.
Before mingling with the financiers and the Romneys, who stayed up unusually late entertaining their guests, Ryan was greeted with a big hug from Beth Myers, the longtime Romney advisor who vetted the vice presidential candidates and made the elaborate plans to secret the Wisconsin congressman from his home in Janesville to the announcement site in Virginia last fall.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie repaired to the terrace with Romney near a glowing set of fire pits for a one-on-one catch-up session that stretched for as long as 45 minutes. Romney offered Christie a far warmer welcome than some of the guests here, who are still angry about the New Jersey governor’s embrace of President Obama in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign as he grappled with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.
Paul strolled in well after 10:30 p.m. Thursday night and ran into Obama strategist David Axelrod, who spoke at the conference with his wife Susan about their foundation, which is seeking a cure for epilepsy.
“You’re doing some of the most interesting stuff out there,” Axelrod told Paul after a handshake. Paul’s strategist, Doug Stafford, told the senator that Axelrod had been “tweeting some very nice things."
“Well, don’t do too much of that,” Paul replied with a smile. (Axelrod was by far the most popular guest at the donor cocktail party. A number of attendees said they had been moved to tears by the Axelrods’ talk and many of them approached him asking to take pictures with him).
Toward the end of the night, Christie and Ryan had their own conversation outside the Stein Eriksen lodge before heading to their rooms.
Romney invited all of the serious 2016 Republican contenders to his three-day conference here in Park City, which is being sponsored by Solamere, the private equity firm co-founded by Tagg Romney and Zwick. The three present--Christie, Paul and Ryan--spoke at panels on Friday that were closed to reporters.
Zwick said Romney felt it was important to introduce the prospective candidates to his network of financiers, many of them top CEOs and industry leaders. But he also wanted to give his donors a chance to evaluate the candidates in a more personal way.