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February 13, 2014 12:20 PM The Search for 2016 Sugar Daddies

By Ed Kilgore

At National Journal Shane Goldmacher has written up a key element of the “invisible primary” leading up to the 2016 presidential election, at least on the Republican side. That would be the search for big Super-PAC donors who can do for ‘16 candidates what Sheldon Adelson did for Newt Gingrich and Foster Friess did for Rick Santorum in the ‘12 cycle: keep a candidacy alive from one checkbook.

Forget Des Moines. The epicenter of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign last week was in Dallas.
Harlan Crow, the real estate magnate and conservative financier who calls the city home, arrived there fresh from watching the Super Bowl in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s private box. On Tuesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker flew into town for a reelection fundraiser at Crow’s $24 million mansion. Later in the week, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky shared a flight from D.C. to Dallas—and then bumped into each other outside the office of one of the city’s GOP donors whom they were both wooing.
“Rand and I are good friends,” Cruz said, “and we run into each other a lot.”
Two years before any primary votes will be cast and long before any official campaign launches, Cruz, Paul, and others are already crisscrossing the country to win the hearts and wallets of the wealthiest Americans.
The race for a 2016 super-PAC sugar daddy is on.
“If I were running, I would think: Who is likely to want to fund a super PAC?” said Roy Bailey, a Dallas Republican who served as national finance chairman of Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 presidential run. “A lot of people are financially capable. But who likes to play the sport? And who would be able to do it? I’d be all over ‘em.”

Several proto-candidates already are “all over ‘em.”

GOP political fundraisers and strategists said that Walker, Cruz, Paul, and Christie have been among the most active and consistently aggressive in nationwide donor outreach in the last year. It is a matter of supply and demand: There are a lot of GOP presidential hopefuls and not so many moguls with a history of investing in political campaigns.

Reading Goldmacher’s account of all the romancing going on (an appropriate if sleazy theme for a Valentine Day’s Eve column), I kept thinking about one possible 2016 GOP candidate who could most benefit from a sugar daddy given his apparent inability to navigate conventional fundraising. And lo and behold, his name popped up:

The contours of the 2012 Republican primary are fresh in the mind of every GOP strategist plotting a potential 2016 campaign. They watched as front-runner Mitt Romney was unable to bury Gingrich or Santorum because super PACs funded by Adelson and Friess, respectively, paid for enough television ads to keep those candidates afloat.
“Those two men alone were single-handedly able to keep those candidates’ campaigns alive longer than they would have been in 2008, when super PACs didn’t exist,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who served as political director for the 2008 presidential bid of her father, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and as a senior adviser to Gov. Tim Pawlenty during his short 2012 run.
These days, Huckabee Sanders is helping lead the American Principles Fund, a super PAC seeded with nearly $400,000 from Sean Fieler, a New York hedge-fund manager. There is talk the group could morph into a pro-Huckabee super PAC, if he were to run again.

If Huck had enjoyed access to the wealth of an Adelson or Friess in 2008, the odds are pretty good he would have derailed John McCain in South Carolina, and then who knows what would have ultimately happened?

The advent of the super-funded Super-PAC surprised most political observers in 2012. We won’t have that excuse if it happens again.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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