Romney rallies in Illinois, but fund-raisers still waiting for decisive moment

Is this really the end?

The protracted GOP primary has forced many Republican donors — including those in Hollywood — to wait it out until there is a nominee. But Mitt Romney’s decisive win in Illinois on Tuesday, coupled with the high-profile endorsement of Jeb Bush on Wednesday, has inspired hopes among Romney’s fund-raisers that, at last, donors will get off the fence.

An indicator will come next Tuesday, when Romney is scheduled to attend a $2,500-a-person fundraiser at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. The event is heavy in co-hosts from the world of finance and private equity, but not so much in entertainment. Among the few from the showbiz realm is Harry Sloan, chairman and CEO of Golden Eagle Acquisition Corp., but he says they are waiting until Romney secures the nomination to have an industry-centric event like those that John McCain had in the last presidential cycle.

“We will have a little more support at next week’s fundraiser than we have in the past,” Sloan said Wednesday, adding that “as soon as the nomination is clear and everyone is coalescing around Romney, we want to have an event to introduce him to Hollywood and the entertainment community.”

Donors to Romney’s campaign include Terry Semel and Bruce Ramer, each long active in GOP fundraising, as well as entertainers like singer Donny Osmond. A pro-Romney SuperPAC, Restore Our Future, has drawn contributions from media mogul Jerry Perenchio, former chief of Univision, who gave $500,000 in February, adding to the $2.1 million he has given to other SuperPACs this cycle. Other politically active industry figures have donated to other candidates. Producer Joel Surnow gave to Newt Gingrich’s campaign last year. And even as Bush and other GOP leaders call for Republicans to coalesce around Romney and end the nominating contest, Los Angeles supporters of Rick Santorum, including Pat Boone, are organizing a fund-raising event for him at the Beverly Hills home of Fred Wehba on March 28.

Overall, however, even as Republican showbiz figures like Jon Voight and Chuck Norris express enthusiasm for defeating President Obama, it has not translated into a cascade of Hollywood contributions to any campaign.

Romney is the top Republican recipient of showbiz money this cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, raising $271,195 as of the end of January. By contrast, McCain and Rudy Giuliani had each collected about $500,000 from showbiz sources by that time in 2008.

The lag is part a function of Romney’s relative lack of showbiz connections; part a desire to wait until the herky-jerky nomination battle shakes out for certain.

Sloan said that donors “want to make sure there is a chance” that Romney, or any other nominee, has a good shot at beating Obama. Despite an improved outlook for the president’s reelection, and the negative campaigning driving up GOP candidates’ unfavorability ratings, Sloan noted polling that has showed a tight race between Obama and Romney.

“I think there is some optimism on our side, a little bit because it looks like Romney is wrapping it up, but more so because the country is quite open to a change, especially among independents,” Sloan said. “The fact that Romney is running neck and neck with Obama is more important to our community than how long this race goes on.”

The lukewarm response among some industry conservatives toward Romney has much to do with the view that he is a creature of the Republican establishment and not the dramatic course correction they say the country needs.

Writer-director Lionel Chetwynd, who has long been active in presidential campaigns, said he will support Romney if he is the nominee, but he is not sure the extent to which he will work for his campaign, “knocking on doors,” as he did for Ronald Reagan and other candidates.

“He is a much better choice for America than Barack Obama,” Chetwynd said. “He is from the Republican establishment. His roots are in the Nelson Rockefeller wing of the Republican party. I am looking for the day when we can break out from the Republican party and have our own candidate, in the way that the Republicans burst out from the Whigs” in 1856.

Others speculate that Romney may maintain an arm’s-length connection to the entertainment industry, which has long been a target for some conservatives focusing on showbiz’s left-leaning excess. Romney has yet to speak to Friends of Abe, the monthly fellowship of industry conservatives, while almost all of the other candidates and major GOP leaders have.

Writer-producer Rob Long, who is backing Romney, dismisses the attention to Romney’s enthusiasm gap, noting, “Since when are Republicans supposed to be enthusiastic? The last candidate we were enthusiastic about was Ronald Reagan.”

The important thing, Long said, is that “Republicans turn out. They actually vote. … They will learn to fall in love with Mitt Romney.”

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