- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Republican donors say Chris Christie won’t be squeezed out of the Republican presidential race even if Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush dive in because there is plenty of money to go around among the three men viewed as the establishment’s candidates and the New Jersey governor has advantages the other two don’t have.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Bush have signaled their interest in the race, making apparent moves to try to lock down the donors and fundraisers that are critical to powering a big campaign.

Some analysts are wondering whether Mr. Christie, who has been eyeing a run for years but hasn’t been as forthcoming as Mr. Bush or Mr. Romney, could be left out of the race.

Mr. Christie’s campaign, however, is starting to take shape. On Tuesday, a Christy ally said the formation of a federal leadership political action committee is “imminent.”

Phil Cox, who served as executive director for Mr. Christie at the Republican Governors Association, and Ray Washburne, a Dallas businessman and former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, are expected to have roles with the PAC, as is Mike DuHaime, who served as a lead strategist on Mr. Christie’s gubernatorial campaigns in 2009 and 2013.

Chris Vincze, a Republican donor from Boston and Romney backer in 2012, said it is far too early to write off Mr. Christie, whom he plans to support if he runs.

“The notion that he is going to be squeezed out is so premature and invalid from my perspective,” Mr. Vincze said.

He added that the donor community in the Northeast is “very open” to all three candidates.

He described Mr. Romney as a “tremendous person” with a “heart of gold,” but said the 2012 Republican presidential nominee could be in for a struggle.

“I think a lot of people have decided we have done everything in our power to help him and it is time to provide someone else with that opportunity,” Mr. Vincze said. “In this case, it could be Gov. Christie, who is one of the most skilled politicians as well as a tremendous fundraiser himself.”

The jockeying for potential supporters continued Tuesday as Mr. Bush visited Washington to meet with some political power brokers and Mr. Christie traveled to Northern Virginia for a business roundtable with about 100 leaders of technology companies, as well as university officials. It is yet another signal that the New Jersey governor hopes to expand his support beyond his political backyard in preparation for a run.

Bobbie Kilberg, a veteran Republican Party fundraiser and head of the Northern Virginia Technology Council, hosted the luncheon for Mr. Christie, who she said will not get muscled out of the race.

“There is plenty of donor money from the center-right to go around,” she said. “Even though Mitt and Jeb have longer standing donor relations, Chris has the element of being such a talented communicator and retail politician that he makes up for it that way. I think he can go out and be attractive to new people no one has gone after.”

Although there may be enough financial backing to cover all three men, they could compete for a finite number of votes — and that could help other candidates, Ms. Kilberg said.

“I would think that if Chris, Mitt and Jeb are in the race, it makes Rand Paul very happy because the reality is that they will be splitting up the center-right pie in three pieces rather than two pieces,” Ms. Kilberg said. “That means that his resources that come from a different pie are going to be worth more.”

The behind-the-scenes scrum for donors has cranked into high gear since Mr. Bush announced last month that he was actively exploring a bid and started reaching out to donors in hopes of securing early support.

Mr. Romney sent a clear signal Friday that he could run a third time by appearing at the Republican National Committee’s annual winter meeting.

Mr. Christie is expected to attend a meet-and-greet dinner this month hosted by Ken Langone, the billionaire co-founder of Home Depot who has been an unwavering supporter of the New Jersey governor. He said Mr. Christie’s blunt-talking political style will resonate with voters and donors alike.

“I think Gov. Christie will connect with the American people as good as any politician has in the last three of four election cycles,” Mr. Langone told The Washington Times. “Why? Because I think you can shut your eyes, and say this guy could be my next-door neighbor. I think America is so craving for authenticity and for direct talk and candor.

“This guy’s father worked in an ice cream factory, Jeb Bush’s father was president of the United States, and Mitt Romney’s father was the head of American Motors,” he said.

Mr. Christie, though, has some clear obstacles to overcome, including a troubled economy and state budget and fallout from the “Bridgegate” scandal.

Social conservatives and tea partyers also scoff at the idea of a Christie bid, saying he is not conservative enough.

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