- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - Presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump on Thursday summoned allies and Republican Party heavyweights to kick off a general election fund-raising operation and push back against the notion that his late-starting cash collecting would be outgunned by Hillary Clinton’s.

“We’ll raise what we need to raise,” Paul Manafort, the campaign’s chief strategist, told reporters after a lunch meeting. He suggested that the money needed to win the race is “not as much as people think.”

“We have enough to win,” Manafort said.

Trump loved to boast during the primaries that he was self-funding his campaign - though he also did accept donations - and he poured in more than $40 million of his own money into the bare-bones campaign. The move to an expensive, national general election campaign, however, requires a far bigger operation, so the Trump campaign signed a joint-fundraising agreement with the Republican National Committee last month.

But the Trump campaign has been slow to raise money, only scheduling a few fundraisers. He had previously said he wanted to raise $1 billion for the battle against Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, but this week said he would be aiming to raise far less.

“I think Donald is learning how to be a candidate,” said John Catsimatidis, a billionaire oil refinery owner who has donated to both parties and ran for mayor as a Republican in 2013. “He’s a very bright guy. He’s very fast on his feet. And he really loves America.”

The Manhattan meeting at Trump Tower kicked off the Trump Victory Fund, the joint cash-raising operation with the RNC that plans to gather money both for his candidacy and for House and Senate GOP candidates. Traditionally, a candidate’s fundraising operation is launched months before a candidacy is declared.

Some traditional Republican donors have been slow to open their wallets to Trump and there has been concern that the candidate’s recent criticisms of a federal judge would be an obstacle to giving. Trump had suggested that an Indiana-born judge of Mexican decent overseeing the fraud case into Trump University would not be impartial because the celebrity businessman wants to build a wall along the U.S. southern border.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Trump backer who attended Thursday’s 60-person meeting, said of Trump’s remarks about the judge: “‘People make mistakes and then they take it back,” according to Catsimatidis.

Catsimatidis said Trump boasted of his ability to get free media coverage, negating the need to run a costly advertising campaign. Trump, who has several fundraisers scheduled for the coming weeks, also said he planned to compete in Democrat-friendly states like New Jersey, California, Maryland and Pennsylvania this fall.

Attendees said specific fundraising goals or which pro-Trump Super PAC to support, were not discussed.

Neither Trump nor RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who also attended the meetings, spoke to reporters.

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Contact Lemire on Twitter at https://twitter.com/@JonLemire

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