Mitt Romney, wasting no time reeling in the cash for his presidential campaign, held a meeting with high-dollar donors in New York City on Tuesday, a day after announcing his exploratory committee for president.
Romney’s announcement Monday came on the five-year anniversary of his health-care plan in Massachusetts, a happenstance Democrats were eager to point out. And while the plan, which has been compared to President Obama’s health legislation, was missing from the former governor’s announcement video, he did discuss it at Tuesday’s fund-raising meeting, his second at the Harvard Club in Manhattan. There Romney told the 130 to 150 fund-raisers in attendance that on “Day 1” of his presidency, he would grant a waiver to all 50 states to opt out of Obama’s plan. Then, he said, he would move to repeal the legislation. Romney appeared ready to “eviscerate Obamacare,” in the words of one attendee. The Massachusetts health-care plan is not perfect, Romney said, but it was a great learning experience, while the president’s plan is “one size fits all” and will not work.
All of Romney’s health-care remarks are talking points that are sure to frame his message on what looks to be his hardest issue to overcome. But investment banker Lewis Eisenberg, who served as John McCain’s 2008 finance chairman and helped plan the breakfast meeting, said most people in the room Tuesday morning believe Romney is the GOP’s best shot in 2012.
“I continue to think he’s the best chance we have to understand the world we are dealing with in the White House,” said Eisenberg. “He believes in the greatness of America, the importance of a strong economy, creating jobs, and reducing the perilous deficit. He will not take his eye off the ball.”
With Romney’s exploratory committee activated, donors like the ones who attended the Harvard Club gathering—who have already pledged between $25,000 and $100,000—can start to write checks to the committee, which is expected to become a full-fledged campaign in the coming months. In attendance Tuesday were New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, former Bush Treasury official Emil Henry, hedge fund manager Anthony Scaramucci, financier Patrick Durkin, and former Goldman Sachs chairman John Whitehead, all of whom attended a similar breakfast fund-raiser for Romney last month. New faces included Tom Foley, who unsuccessfully ran for governor of Connecticut last November, and hedge fund manager John Paulson, who along with Johnson spoke at the meeting.
Obama has been “ineffective” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has “no clear policy” on Libya, Romney said, errors that “highlight Obama’s inexperience.”
All attendees pledged at least $25,000, but donors say many of the bundlers will raise between $100,000 and $250,000. The $50 million fund-raising goal that came up at the last meeting was not mentioned Tuesday.
Foley, who also served as the ambassador to Ireland during the second Bush administration, said the crowd was enthusiastic that the exploratory committee is official.
“People can jump in and begin supporting him in the best way they are able to do that,” Foley told The Daily Beast. “There is a gathering sense of momentum when everybody gets together. The gun has been fired and it was exciting for everyone.”
In addition to breakfast, donors were given a glimpse into Romney’s talking points and message for the coming months.
According to several donors in attendance, Romney focused on the economy and job creation, saying his experience running the private equity firm Bain Capital puts him in the best position of the nascent 2012 GOP field. Romney hammered home this point both in his 2008 campaign and in Monday’s announcement video. “President Obama’s policies have failed,” a tieless, plaid shirt-clad Romney says in the video. “He and virtually all the people around him have never worked in the real economy. They just don’t know how jobs are created in the private sector.”
“I think he was trying to emphasize the value of his private sector experience and knowledge of the business community to create jobs and get the economy going and get the economy working better for the people,” Foley said. “His experience in contrast with the other candidates and the president’s lack of experience. Of all the candidates he has spent the most time in the private sector and has the relevant business experience.”
Foley added that Romney did not mention any of his potential rivals by name.
According to attendees, Romney also spoke about foreign policy, trying out another contrast between himself and the president. Obama has been “ineffective” in the Israeli and Palestinian conflict and has “no clear policy” on Libya, Romney said, and those errors “highlight Obama’s inexperience.” Governors running for higher office often have trouble looking strong on foreign policy, but Romney is seeking to present himself as experienced in this area early, highlighting his involvement in global business during his time at Bain. Romney also told the crowd that the key to effective foreign policy is negotiating, calling Obama, according to donors in attendance, an “ineffective negotiator.” The former governor used the new START treaty, which he has criticized before, as an example. Although he stressed his experience, Romney added, “I’m experienced enough to rely on the [foreign policy] experts” when needed.
The next stop in the fund-raising blitz is Florida, where, according to a member of his financial team in the state, Romney will hold a sit-down dinner at The Villages—a huge retirement community with a substantial conservative population—for his Florida leadership committee on Thursday. The fund-raising tour is expected to include 30 stops.
Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.