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Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times
  • Philip Maddocks: Donors say they would consider backing Christie if he wins presidential election

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  • Republican donors and fund-raisers who are ready – almost eager – to back Jeb Bush if the former Florida governor decides to run for president have also offered hope to Chris Christie, saying this week there is still an outside chance they may back him in 2016 should he manage to win the presidency.
    “I would never say never, and I don’t think Chris should, either,” said Lawrence E. Bathgate II, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee and a major donor in New Jersey.
    “I like to keep an open mind,” he said, “What we’re saying to Christie is that if he wants to get our attention, he has to show us something. And I am just speaking for myself here, but if he wins the race, that might be enough to convince me to take a second look.”
    David V. Hedley, a former Wall Street executive and Republican fund-raiser in New Jersey and, like Mr. Bathgate, one of the few Republican donors who would speak on the record on the topic, said he also might be swayed into a rethink by a Christie victory.
    “It’s tough right now for me to imagine backing Christie even if he wins,” Mr. Hedley admitted, “but I would have to consider it, I guess.”
    And Christine Todd Whitman, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, put it this way: “It would be awkward. It would be very awkward not to back Mr. Christie if he won. But I’ve done some awkward things before. And if it came to that, if Mr. Christie is elected president, I could imagine a scenario where I might back him.”
    Many of those who are weighing the possibility of backing Mr. Christie in his bid should he be elected president say the New Jersey governor’s recent troubles, especially the George Washington Bridge scandal, wouldn’t necessarily prevent them throwing their support behind a victorious Mr. Christie. They reason that their ties to New Jersey and its governor – and Mr. Christie’s victory at the polls – would offer some political cover. But there is a growing sense that any backing of Mr. Christie, even if he makes it to the Oval Office, is fraught with political risk.
    Nowhere is the consternation greater than among the hundreds of top donors and so-called bundlers who cut their teeth on Bush family political campaigns. If Mr. Bush runs and loses, they must choose between bucking their ties to the first family of Republican politics or throwing their support behind a victorious Mr. Christie, who apparently does not take well to triumph or defeat.
    “Those of us that have been dedicated to the Bush family for years would obviously have to take a Christie candidacy into consideration if the New Jersey governor is elected to the White House,” said Fred S. Zeidman, a Texas businessman and top fund-raiser for George W. Bush’s two presidential campaigns who has helped introduce Mr. Christie to potential supporters in his state.
    Page 2 of 2 - The presidential chatter is “irrelevant to us,” said William J. Palatucci, Mr. Christie’s top adviser and a former law partner. “You know it’s out there, but it’s just not part of our conversation. We’re here to win votes, not the attention of big donors.”
    Still, Mr. Palatucci did say the New Jersey governor – who has taken up painting in his spare time - was heartened by the remarks of big donors who seemed to be indicating that even if they abandon Mr. Christie for Mr. Bush there is still a possibility they may return to support Mr. Christie down the line should he be elected president.
    “That’s all we’ve ever asked for from the beginning, to be treated like everybody else. We realize Jeb Bush is royalty and we can live with that,” Mr. Palatucci said.
    Until Mr. Bush emerged as a potential 2016 contender, many donors had been resigned to the idea that their only real alternative was to support Mr. Christie.
    But as Mr. Bush’s public flirtation with a White House bid has intensified, so has the impression among these donors that they may not have to throw their support behind Mr. Christie after all.
    Many donors, however, are insisting that Mr. Christie is still in the mix and that many in the Republican establishment are growing more comfortable with the sometime confrontational New Jersey governor.
    “They feel a lot better about Christie,” said Barry Wynn, a fund-raiser for George W. Bush and a former chairman of the Republican Party in South Carolina. “Especially now that there may only be a distant possibility that they will have to support him.”
    Philip Maddocks writes a weekly satirical column. He can be reached at pmaddocks@wickedlocal.com.
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