Donors Mingle With GOP Elite at Utah Retreat

National Journal

PARK CITY, Utah – Spirits were high among Mitt Romney’s top donors this weekend as they gathered at a Utah resort town to receive an update on the presidential race and rub shoulders with some of the Republican party’s top talent.

The three-day retreat in Park City – a town that boasts top-notch ski slopes and plays host to the Sundance Film Festival each year – brought together a crowd estimated at more than 700 people for socializing, issue panels and a campaign briefing by top Romney aides.

David Reinke, a donor from western Colorado, described the retreat as “quite comfortable and invigorating.”

“I've found everybody to be quite approachable in and in quite high spirits,” he said. A number of donors echoed the excitement, expressing confidence that the election was going well.

Donors paid for their own flights to the area as well as their hotels, said Larry Conti, the guest of a top Romney contributor who asked not to be named.

After policy meetings and a reception at the nearby Utah Olympic Park on Friday, participants rose early Saturday morning for a speech by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who ran for president in 2008; a panel on “Innovation in America” featuring Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Sen. John Thune, Rep. Paul Ryan and Home Depot founder and financier Ken Langone; a “media insight” discussion that included operatives Karl Rove and Mary Matalin; and a campaign briefing with Romney’s top aides. On Sunday, the group is scheduled for a golf outing in nearby Heber City.

Rove – who, along with Matalin, apparently regaled the crowed by recalling an incident in which former Vice President Dick Cheney shot attorney Harry Whittington during a quail hunt in 2006 – described his own session as “damn good” to reporters as he sped away on a golf cart after lunch.

“This was much more meaty than I thought it would be,” said Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Romney surrogate who attended the retreat. “I thought it would be a little bit more rah rah but we had a lot of the internal workings of Romney world and how they do things day to day. I thought the senior staff portion was really neat where they talked about the 10 a.m. meeting and how they go through some of the decision making process.”

But the star of the weekend seemed to be former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who participants described as “an exceptional speaker” and “very inspirational.” She spoke about the importance of American leadership on the international stage.

A number of potential vice presidential candidates also made the trek out to Utah, including Thune, Jindal, Ryan and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. But one donor said it did not seem as if they were being screened, and that veep chatter was kept to a minimum.

While Mitt and Ann Romney addressed their guests at the Friday evening reception, they let the campaign aides and other top Republicans run the show and spent little time mingling on Saturday, many participants said. The exception was a “Women for Romney Victory Tea” hosted by Ann Romney on Saturday afternoon.

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