The 2016 Republican presidential primaries are still almost two years away, but the race is on for the support of one key donor: billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
This weekend in Las Vegas, four potential 2016 candidates will gather at Adelson's Venetian hotel and casino on the strip to address a gathering of the influential Republican Jewish Coalition, a group backed by Adelson. The staunchly pro-Israel Adelson and his wife, Miriam, donated well over $100 million to Republican groups in the 2012 election cycle, including Super PACs backing Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.
According to a program for the conference, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush will address a group of top-tier donors on Thursday evening during a "VIP Board Dinner" at the Las Vegas Sands Hangar at McCarran Airport open to donors who give more than $25,000 a year to the organization. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will address the entire conference, which is open to donors who give more than $1,000 a year to the group, on Saturday morning, while Ohio Gov. John Kasich will speak at a luncheon hosted by the group's National Women’s Committee. Kasich and Walker will also attend a "Discussion and Photo Op" for the RJC donors who meet a $5,000 annual donation level or greater.
For the potential candidates, the opportunity to interact with the high-dollar donors, particularly Adelson, is hard to overstate. The pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, was backed almost entirely by the Adelson family and was central to the former House Speaker's surge in the South Carolina primary. The group's attacks on Mitt Romney also helped lay the groundwork for the Obama campaign's message against the eventual Republican nominee.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal have addressed the group in the past. One name not to look for: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), whose father was the only 2012 candidate not invited to the group's candidate forum in 2011.
In addition to the presidential hopefuls, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer will address attendees at Sabbath dinner on Friday night, while former Vice President Dick Cheney will be the keynote speaker at a dinner Saturday night, with Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.) serving as master of ceremonies and entertainment provided by Australian Motown group Human Nature. Cheney will hold a discussion and photo-op with donors who've given more than $10,000 to the group before the dinner. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer will hold a "communications workshop" on Saturday for the group's donors focused on selling the group's ideas, while Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) will host a late night dessert reception for young leaders. On Sunday morning, GOP commentators David Frum and John Podhoretz will discuss the path forward for the GOP in a debate moderated by Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who is running for Senate.
RJC donors will also be offered the opportunity to play in a golf tournament at the Royal Links Golf Club, which has holes modeled on famous British golf courses, as well as a poker tournament on Friday afternoon.
Most of the action will be taking place behind closed doors, as the speakers meet with Adelson and other top-tier donors privately. Only the Saturday morning speeches are open to the press.