Tycoon Sheldon Adelson looks for mainstream Republican to support

Billionaire Sheldon Adelson is looking for a more mainstream presidential candidate with a shot at winning, after spending big on long shot

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 10:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 March, 2014, 4:41am

Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife ploughed more than US$92 million into efforts to help mostly losing candidates in the 2012 elections, is undertaking a new strategy for 2016: to tap his fortune on behalf of a more mainstream Republican with a clear shot to win the White House, according to people familiar with his thinking.

In 2012, Sheldon and Miriam Adelson spent so much of their money on long-shot candidate Newt Gingrich that they helped extend an ugly intraparty fight that left the eventual nominee, Mitt Romney, severely bruised by the time he faced President Barack Obama in the general election.

This time, the Adelsons are plotting their investments based not on personal loyalty, but on a much more strategic aim: to help select a Republican nominee they believe will have broad appeal to an increasingly diverse national electorate.

The change in attitude comes amid early jockeying by a lengthy list of aspiring Republican presidential contenders to win the affections of the billionaire, who is in the beginning stages of assessing the field.

"The bar for support is going to be much higher," said Andy Abboud, Adelson's top political adviser and an executive at the Adelson-run Las Vegas Sands. He added, "There's going to be a lot more scrutiny."

This strategy would favour more established 2016 hopefuls such as former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and Ohio governor John Kasich. All four will descend this week on Adelson's luxury hotel in Las Vegas, the Venetian, for an important step in what some are calling the "Sheldon Primary".

Officially, the potential 2016 candidates will be at the Venetian for the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which begins today with a golf outing followed by a VIP dinner featuring Bush and hosted by the Adelsons in the private airplane hangar where Adelson keeps his fleet.

But some of the most important events will occur between the poker tournament, Scotch tasting and strategy workshops. That's when Adelson is scheduled to hold casual one-on-one chats - over coffee, at dinner or in his private office - with the prospective candidates.

Victor Chaltiel, a Republican donor and an Adelson friend who sits on the board of Las Vegas Sands, said at this early stage in the 2016 sweepstakes, Adelson was "neutral" and had his eye on a number of potential candidates, including Bush and Christie.

"He doesn't want a crazy extremist to be the nominee," Chaltiel said. "He wants someone who has the chance to win the election, who is reasonable in his positions, who has convictions but is not totally crazy."

Chaltiel said Adelson was concerned about the impact the George Washington Bridge traffic scandal in New Jersey has had on Christie's political image. He also said Adelson admired Bush and believed he had the unique potential to do what Romney could not: win over a large number of non-white voters. Bush, whose wife is Mexican American, speaks fluent Spanish.