October 23, 2010- As the 2010 campaign draws to its raucous close, the Republican Party's biggest donors are slowly beginning to choose sides, with some still looking for a strong alternative to a populist conservative movement that makes them uneasy.
The big New York, Texas, California and Florida donors who traditionally play a key role in choosing the GOP nominee lined up behind George W. Bush in 2000 and, largely, John McCain in 2008.
This year’s early favorite appears to be Mitt Romney, donor sources confirmed to POLITICO, who has already lined up quiet commitments from more than a dozen top names, among them billionaire David Koch and his wife, Julia, financier and former Goldman Sachs partner Lewis Eisenberg, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and Ogilvy Government Relations Chairman Wayne Berman.
Romney is already raising copiously for his political action committee and has the help of his longtime campaign finance adviser, Spencer Zwick, who’s currently assisting Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign in California — a role that also provides the former Massachusetts governor with a toehold in a major state.
But other big donors remain unsure of Romney. His 2008 run showcased his strengths and drawbacks, high among them the government-run health care plan he supported while in Massachusetts
Some in the big-donor class claim to welcome the tea party’s energy, but many are nevertheless nervously eyeing Sarah Palin, who posted big numbers this quarter with a surprisingly small number of maximum donations — a sign that she could be poised to, like GOP Senate nominees Sharron Angle in Nevada or Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, capture an Internet cash wave that has largely favored Democrats so far.
“Most long-standing donors are worried about a candidate, or multiple candidates, coming forward who are too extreme,” said a major Republican donor with long ties to the party. “You’ve got a lot of people that don’t want to support the tea party movement.”