Who's who of GOP elite coming to Utah for weekend retreat with Romney donors

Published: Thursday, June 21 2012 8:00 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials 29th Annual Conference on June 21, 2012 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Romney spoke about immigration reform as he continues to battle U.S. President Barack Obama for votes.

Gerardo Mora, Getty Images

Read more: Romney: I'll tackle immigration in 'civil' manner

DEER VALLEY — Mitt Romney and some of the nation's best-known Republicans are holding a private retreat in Utah this weekend with the presumptive GOP presidential nominee's top donors and fundraisers.

The exclusive event is one of the perks for donors who have given at least $50,000 or raised a minimum of $250,000 for the Romney Victory Fund, which shares contributions with the Republican Party. 

The more than 700 guests expected will hear from what's being billed as the GOP "Dream Team," a list that includes the party's 2008 nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, strategist Karl Rove, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Besides panel discussions Friday and Saturday on banking, health care, Israel, innovation and the media, there's a barbecue at the Utah Olympic Park, a tea with Romney's wife, Ann, and Olympic ice skating gold-medalist Dorothy Hamill, and golf.

"This is about rewarding your big donors," University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said. "There won't be any average Utahns there at all unless they're serving food or something."

Burbank said there's some risk with bringing the event to a posh place like Deer Valley, because it could reinforce the perception that Romney's personal wealth and privileged background make it difficult for him to connect with voters.

"It's terribly important that this not be seen or widely presented as a Republican rich club meeting planning the future of the country," Burbank said. "It looks like, 'Oh, gee, if I give $50,000, I get to talk to him.'"

There is also some concern that coming to Utah will remind voters of Romney's Mormon faith, an issue particularly with evangelicals who don't view members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as fellow Christians.

Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said that shouldn't be an issue. 

"Everybody knows he's Mormon and we're way past that in that race," Wright said. 

Romney is using the event to play up his leadership of the 2002 Winter Games. Not only was Deer Valley an Olympic venue, so were the ski jumps just outside Park City where the barbecue is being held.

It's also a chance to see how some of his potential vice-presidential picks play with Republican leaders and major contributors, University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said. 

"It's a good opportunity to see how those folks interact," Hagle said. "If somebody were to make a big faux pas at this sort of thing, that might scratch them off the list."

Several contenders for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket will be at Deer Valley, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who's hosting a fundraiser for 4th Congressional District candidate Mia Love while he's here.

Other names said to be on the short list for vice president won't be attending. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio had to turn down his invitation due to scheduling issues and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is in the middle of budget negotiations with his state's Legislature.

Wright said the event will showcase Utah Republicans, starting with Love, who faces a tough battle against the state's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson. "We're going to cash in and take advantage," Wright said.

The nation's GOP elite will be able to experience firsthand how red Utah is, Wright said. "They'll want to come back not only because it's a great state and great place to be, but because they like the politics of the state."

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