Miss Any of the Romney Retreat? All the Details from the Donor Confab

Jun 25, 2012 12:31pm
ap paul ryan jp 120625 wblog Miss Any of the Romney Retreat? All the Details from the Donor Confab

Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

ABC News’ Shushannah Walshe and Arlette Saenz report:

If you’re like  most of America, maybe you spent this summer weekend barbecuing.  Not super-rich Republican donors, conservative thinkers and GOP elective officials. They were in beautiful Park City, Utah, where presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney hosted a fundraiser / policy brainstorming session / salon for everybody who is anybody in the Republican party.

The event was closed to the public and reporters, but here, pieced together from ABC reporters on the ground, is some of what you’d have seen if you had made the list to hobnob with the Republican elite.

FRIDAY AFTERNOON: As attendees entered the Chateaux at Silver Lake, the host hotel, throughout the sunny afternoon, they were handed a Vineyard Vines tan canvas tote bag with navy piping and the words “Believe in America” stitched on the side. Inside the bag was a blue baseball hat with “Romney” written over a circular American flag and a thick white binder, detailing the weekend’s schedule from policy discussions to social events, along with a list of Romney’s upcoming events and Romney for president pins.

In addition to the Romney swag, there was also a typed note from Romney’s National Finance Chairman Spencer Zwick addressed to the attendees by their first names. “Welcome to the first Romney Victory Leadership Retreat! We are very glad you were able to join us for this special weekend. Thank you for the continued support and leadership. On to victory!,” the card read.

Some were even personalized with a handwritten note from Zwick expressing appreciation to the donor and his or her  family, signed with his initials “SZ.”

Get more pure politics at ABC News.com/Politics and a lighter take on the news at OTUSNews.com

Golf carts whipped attendees around the complex and to discussions on healthcare, Israel, the state of the race, and the financial services industry that were conducted both  Friday and Saturday.

One of the first discussions was a lecture from former Secretary of State James Baker III. Rodger Young and his 26-year-old daughter, Lauren, came from New York and Chicago respectively for the retreat (each attendee was allowed a guest, or plus one) and they described the speech as “positive” in tone.  Although the father  recounted that Baker did say the country was in “significant trouble” because of the nation’s “debt burden,” he said Baker also assured that the state of the world “internationally…isn’t as bad as you think,” specifically pointing out that America has “still by far the strongest military.”

Baker scolded the Obama administration for “ignoring any type of bi-partisanship,” according to the Youngs.

FRIDAY NIGHT: Retreat goers attended a reception at Olympic Park, which sits atop a mountain overlooking picturesque Park City. Romney waved to the small group of press relegated to the bottom of the mountain as his motorcade zoomed up the mountainside.

As young Olympic hopefuls practiced on the  ski jumping hills from the 2002 Olympics, which Romney ran, donors arrived amid heavy security.

Reporters were not allowed into the event, but Olympic athletes did perform their ski jumping for those lucky enough to attend with their plus ones.

Two donors who attended the reception said their highlight was Ann Romney’s speech when she introduced her family and roasted her sons, four of whom attended.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune told ABC News Ann Romney’s speech was “funny” and called Mitt Romney’s address “inspirational” in tone that went beyond just thanking the fundraisers, adding that the presumptive GOP nominee described how he wants to lead the country.

Larry Conti, a plus-one attendee from Los Angeles, said Romney mentioned the Brookings Institution study, often cited by Rick Santorum during the primaries.  Romney spoke about this study in his speech to the annual Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month. The study found that marriage, education, and employment all play important roles in keeping people out of poverty.

SATURDAY MORNING: To kick off Day Two, Sen. John McCain addressed the donors.  Young said McCain spoke about Iran, saying that “Iran is so much closer to nuclear weaponry than they were at the commencement of the Barack Obama term.”  McCain, who ran against President Obama in 2008, also discussed the “perceived weakness of the United States” in the world.

The panels might have been well attended, but Saturday morning the place to be was the lobby where a  man in a dark suit and purple pocket square was camped out talking to what appeared to be lanyard-wearing donors.   The man was Charlie Spies, the founder of the Mitt Romney-backing super PAC Restore Our Future.

He wasn’t attending any of the panels or discussions and didn’t even want to go in to get a cup of coffee, but  with attendees walking to and from meetings or gathering to talk,  the lobby was a popular gathering point.

It’s legal for Spies to be there, but “coordination” with the candidate is not, a rule that’s hard to enforce and explain.

He pleasantly wouldn’t answer questions about the propriety of him hobnobbing at the Romney Victory Leadership Retreat, but he said, “Romney supporters are energized.”

“People here understand that the private sector is not doing fine and we need a president who understands how to create jobs and turn the economy around,” Spies told ABC News.

The Romney campaign said the super PAC members were in Park City on their own, and were not attendees of the event.

“ROF staff were not invited, nor did they attend or participate in the retreat,” Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “As with members of the media, they may have been in public spaces, and the campaign did not control that. We are fully aware of the law and comply with it completely.”

Of course, he wasn’t the only person affiliated with a GOP superPAC on hand for the weekend events.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON: Karl Rove, founder of American Crossroads and a former Bush strategist, was also there. He spoke on a “media insight” panel and on another one examining Romney’s path to victory. Rove, dressed in a blue blazer, told reporters his panel was “damn good,” before whizzing away on a golf cart.

Attendees said the panel was engaging and humorous, with Rove swearing up a storm and regaling the crowd with funny stories.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz told reporters both Rove and GOP strategist Mary Matalin were making the crowd howl, telling them about when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a friend with bird-shot pellets on a hunting trip.

“He was on full display,” Chaffetz said of Rove.

It wasn’t all joking, though. According to Young, Rove said, “We had to focus on some particular groups, such as some Republicans that didn’t vote in the last election,” including focusing on women.  It’s unclear whether Rove was also soliciting donations as he mingled with attendees over the weekend.

Spotted walking into the Rove panel: Matt Romney

More on all the panels here: http://abcn.ws/KVYBX9

SATURDAY’S LUNCH RECEPTION: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was very well received, with almost every donor saying her speech was the highlight of the weekend. She spoke with no notes and received a sustained standing ovation when she was done, according to several attendees.

Charles Cobb, who served as ambassador to Iceland from 1989 to 1992, said Rice was “spectacular” and described her as a “very bright, sophisticated, articulate lady.”

Husband-and-wife donors from Los Angeles who did not want to be identified said Rice’s message was one of “America needing to take charge.”

“We can’t stand by and let things happen,” the wife said. “If we do, someone else will take that leadership role.”

They both described her address as an “impassioned plea” for the country to “stand up and take charge.”

Donor Kent Lucken, an international banker in Boston who moved back to his home state of Iowa for six weeks before the caucuses to help Romney, said “she rocked it.”

ALSO SATURDAY:  It wasn’t just listening to the top leaders and thinkers of the Republican Party.  Donors also received a briefing by the Romney senior staff, including campaign manager Matt Rhoades, senior strategist Stuart Stevens, and longtime adviser Beth Myers, who is heading up the vice presidential selection process.  They described the campaign’s “10 a.m. meeting,” according to Chaffetz, who attended.

“I think people were fascinated by that,” Chaffetz said. “They spent a good half hour showing them how they would do that, and what they would talk about and how they review the numbers and talk about messaging and develop that into a cohesive message that’s not only earned media but also paid media and other types of things. That was really different than I think that most people thought.”

Chaffetz added that they went through “the analysis of what’s going on in the media, looking at polling, looking at all the different facets.”

SATURDAY EVENING: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at the final reception, and as donors were leaving to go to private dinners at restaurants and residences around town, one fundraiser from Greenwich, Conn., said Bush told the crowd “the country was only growing at 2 percent when we could be growing at 4 percent. If the country was growing at 4 percent we could add on another country the size of Germany to the United States.”

Spotted going into the Bush reception: Ben, Matt, and Craig Romney.

After the address, attendees were whisked away in vans to private dinners where the GOP bold faced names addressed the crowd. Most were held in homes around Park City, but the one headlined by Sen. Rob Portman was just across the street.

Portman exclusively chatted with ABC News as he made the stroll along the sidewalk to the restaurant at the Golden Hirschner Inn.  He called former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s evening speech “scintillating. It was great as always” and said he  delivered a “very positive message about the importance of this election and about Governor Romney. He was terrific.”

Portman is considered one of the top contenders for Romney to pick as a running mate, and he joined a number of other possible VPs at the donor confab including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Asked if there was any VP talk while he was at the retreat today, Portman responded, “Nah.”

But as he walked away about to enter the dinner, ABC News asked whether he enjoys the vice presidential talk or if he finds the constant questions annoying.

Without uttering any words, Portman waited a few seconds before turning around as he walked, shrugged his shoulders, lifted his arms and emitted a few chuckles.

Find even more spottings, detail, and color from the weekend here: http://abcn.ws/Nq3mDc

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