New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will court donors at a Thursday luncheon in the exclusive Minikahda Club overlooking Lake Calhoun. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was to have made the same request across town at a noontime fundraiser at the posh Minneapolis Club.
The Rubio campaign said late Wednesday night that its Minneapolis fundraiser would have to be rescheduled because the senator needs to be in Washington for an expected vote on the Iran nuclear treaty.
Most voters here won’t get to see Christie deliver a stump speech. His event is off limits to all but those willing to open their checkbooks, and the candidate has not scheduled any public appearances.
For those Minnesotans willing to pay for access, it’s a rare firsthand view of a real, live contender in the still-crowded, 17-person Republican presidential field. For Christie, it’s about identifying and influencing well-heeled Minnesota donors — many of whom have yet to back a specific candidate.
“It’s still early to make that decision,” said Harold Hamilton, CEO and founder of the Fridley technology manufacturer Micro Control Co. Hamilton has given tens of thousands of dollars to national and state Republican candidates over the years, but so far hasn’t cut a check for a 2016 contender.
Hamilton said he was not invited to the Christie or Rubio fundraisers. His early favorite is Ben Carson, the retired Baltimore neurosurgeon who has lately begun rising in the polls.
Bill Guidera is a 21st Century Fox executive who lives in Minnesota and formerly served as finance chairman for the state Republican Party. He confirmed that many of the state’s traditional big-dollar donors haven’t yet been forthcoming with contributions.
“Many people are waiting to see how debates go and how the campaigns pan out for a while before they make their decisions,” said Guidera, who for the time being is keeping his candidate options open.
A few major GOP donors have weighed in. Broadcasting mogul Stanley Hubbard, a longtime and prolific political donor who also has supported plenty of Democrats, has maxed out personal donation limits to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker this year.
According to the Federal Election Commission website, Hubbard also donated $50,000 to a super PAC supporting Walker and $5,000 to a super PAC that supports Christie. In addition, he has given $200,000 to a super PAC established by industrialists Charles and David Koch, the brothers who have become legendary in conservative circles for their political activism and mega-donations. So far, the Kochs have been supportive of Walker.
Minnesota GOP insiders say that despite Walker’s flagging poll numbers, the Wisconsin governor appears to have an early edge in lining up the state’s biggest right-leaning donors. Businessmen like Bob Naegele and Bill Cooper, a one-time GOP state party chair, have attended at least one of several fundraisers Walker has held in Minneapolis in recent months.
Minnesota has not historically been a fundraising jackpot for Republican presidential candidates, compared to states like Texas or Florida. But there are plenty of connections to be made as the GOP candidates try to piece together a nationwide fundraising juggernaut.
Political alliances between Christie and respective Minnesota Republican insiders helped bring about Thursday’s fundraiser. In Christie’s case, a group of donors led by Wayzata investor Scott Honour is hosting the Minikahda Club luncheon.
“We’ll have a lot of folks attending that are businesspeople in various forms — owners, professionals,” said Honour, who made a failed bid for Minnesota governor in 2014. “Obviously, raising money is a key objective, but it’s also about getting the word out.”
A donation of $5,400 from a couple nets four lunch tickets and a photo with the candidate. A single lunch ticket costs $250.
Honour said he and his wife have become “personal friends” with Christie and his wife in recent years. The Honours are co-hosting the event with Wheelock Whitney, a businessman, longtime GOP donor and former politician; Bonnie Speer McGrath, an Edina businesswoman; and Karen and David Williams.
“I have no expectations of any particular access,” said David Williams, a Twin Cities retinal surgeon. “What I want to do is support good Republican candidates who can do great things for the United States of America.”
McGrath said potential donors who are reluctant to start giving money too early should realize that weighing in now might actually give them better access to a chosen candidate.
“As I’ve tried to get friends to this fundraiser, I’ve said that right now is the time you can really influence a candidate,” McGrath said. “By the time a candidate is actually selected, that’s when their whole world becomes even more rarefied.”
Supporters of both Christie and Rubio said they believed the candidates would be back for more high-profile, public events ahead of Minnesota’s March 1 presidential caucus.