Mitt Romney Donor Retreat Kicks Off with Tote Bags, Ski Jumpers, and a Roast from Ann
ABC's Shushannah Walshe and Arlette Saenz report:
PARK CITY, UTAH- "It will be the happiest day of my life, after the day I got married and the birth of my children."
That's how one donor described what Mitt Romney winning the presidency would mean to him-and he's a Democrat from Los Angeles.
He gave his first ever donation to a candidate just this Fall - a $500 check to Romney - and has since bundled over $200,000 through donations ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 increments for the former governor's presidential campaign, but the donor, who owns shopping centers in California, doesn't want to be publicly identified as a "bundler."
The Los Angeles donor, who once voted for Ronald Reagan, said he cast his ballot for Obama in 2008 because he liked his "rhetoric," but he's since soured on the president whom he called "arrogant" and has turned his full focus on getting Romney elected the next President of the United States.
He said he took time away from his business and family to attend this weekend because he wanted to "network" with other attendees and spend time with Romney himself.
Wealthy donors and bundlers determined to propel Romney to the White House joined a mix of GOP elite, leaders of the party, and members of Romney staff in this postcard perfect resort town for the weekend retreat beginning Friday.
For many, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to listen to the most famous and influential of the Republican party, hob nob with other wealthy fundraisers and Republican lawmakers, and of course mingle with the presumptive GOP nominee.
There could be as many as 700 attendees gathering at the exclusive retreat over the course of the weekend, and a number of vice presidential contenders will speak and socialize with the donors, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, and South Dakota Sen. John Thune.
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.
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 name. "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 their family, signed with his initials "SZ."
Golf carts whipped attendees around the complex and to and from the Stein Eriksen lodge across the street where discussions on healthcare, Israel and the financial services industry were conducted.
The Republican strategist Mary Matalin, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, and a beaming Tagg Romney, the candidate's eldest son, were seen whizzing by on the carts at various points in the day. The personal touch didn't stop there. As attendees registered, campaign staffers handed everyone a schedule on a lanyard credential, gave directions, and even offered to take suitcases up for those eager to get to the events.
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 (every attendee got a plus one), and he said he was so impressed by Baker he didn't expect to enjoy another one of the events so thoroughly.
Young described the speech as "positive" in tone and although he said Baker did say the country was in "significant trouble" because of the nation's "debt burden," 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. Rodger Young is a business and trial lawyer who lives in both Michigan and New York. Young said he supported Romney in 2008 and originally became involved because he knows Romney's older brother Scott, who was also on hand for the weekend.
He described himself as a donor not a bundler, "yet." Young said the 82-year-old Baker told the crowd he has been around for "1/3 as long as this republic has existed" and despite its current troubles he knows the "resilience of the American people will conquer all."
Lauren praised the campaign's social media efforts, saying she thinks it is effectively targeting Republicans her age.
Friday evening, 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 their impressive ski jumping on the green jumps from the 2002 Olympics, which Romney ran, donors arrived amidst 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 one.
Two donors who attended the reception said their highlight was Ann Romney's speech where she introduced her family and roasted her sons, four of whom attended.
It all starts up again early Saturday morning with donors expected to hear from Sen. John McCain, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ann Romney, and Karl Rove, former Bush strategist and founder of the GOP superPAC American Crossroads, throughout the day.