The 2016 presidential primaries are still years away, but an unofficial one held this weekend in Las Vegas could prove incredibly lucky for at least one GOP contender's coffers. It's the spring meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which is held at the Venetian casino, owned by Sheldon Adelson. Yes, the same Sheldon Adelson who donated $15 million to Newt Gingrich's super PAC and $30 million to Mitt Romney's super PAC.
Four potential presidential candidates are hoping they can cajole Adelson, who is also on the Republican Jewish Coalition's board, into giving them a leg-up in the already crowded Republican field after four days of scotching and cigaring. Welcome to the "Adelson Primary."
1. Describe the scene for me.
The Republican Jewish Coalition's invitation for this year's spring meeting reads, "Join us for a terrific weekend of poker, politics, and policy at the fabulous Venetian Resort and Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada!" There will be a golf tournament and a poker tournament. There will be scotch tastings. There will be many one-on-one meetings with Sheldon Adelson and other donors and prominent politicians.
The Republican Jewish Coalition has been around for 25 years. It has funded many Israel trips for politicians, holds the Presidential Candidates Forum every four years and hosts this annual spring conference at one of Adelson's gambling palaces.
The Venetian Hotel, headquarters for the Las Vegas Sands Corp. -- owned by Adelson -- is a Heisenberg-level distillation of Las Vegas. Venice, Italy, is its muse. It has gondolas. It has 4,059 hotel rooms and 4,049 hotel suites. The potential presidential candidates will be able to watch performances of Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Tim Allen, Jim Belushi or David Spade if they get bored of the scotch. There is a restaurant called JuiceFarm.
2. Who is Sheldon Adelson?
Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates resorts and casinos around the world. His previous jobs include vending-machine hawker, court reporter, real estate agent and toiletries packager, among more than 40 other career paths. Now, he is worth a reported $37.9 billion.
The casino industry is how Adelson made his money -- he is now the 10th richest person in the world -- but as the Guardian wrote in November 2012, "Israel is Adelson's enduring passion."
The mogul often tells the story of how he stepped off the plane for the first time wearing the shoes of his late father, who had been too poor to travel. His commitment has grown since marrying his second wife, Miriam, an Israeli, in 1991. The Adelsons have underwritten think tanks, exchange programmes, DC-based lobby groups and, most controversially, the interests of Netanyahu. Adelson believes Israel's hawkish prime minister is a necessary bulwark to supposed peace talks and Palestinian statehood, a prospect he abhors. After false starts, Adelson established his tabloid, Israel Hayom, in 2007. It now has a 38% share of the weekday newspaper market, compared to 36% for its main rival Yedioth Ahronoth, 11% for Ma'ariv and 7% for Haaretz. The heavily advertised paper is given away by uniformed distributors on the streets, outside supermarkets and at gas stations. It also has paid home-delivery sales. Its partisanship earned the nicknamed "Bibiton", a play on the prime minister's nickname and the Hebrew word for newspaper.
He has given over $100 million to Birthright Israel.
His other philanthropic endeavors include the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Medical Research Foundation and the Adelson Educational Campus.
To understand the roots of this Houdini act, you have to know where Sheldon Adelson came from: a one-bedroom tenement in Boston’s rough Dorchester neighborhood. “The bedroom was about the size of these chairs here,” he says pointing to the group of plush yellow sofas that took up about an eighth of his office. His parents got the mattress, he and his three siblings slept on the floor. His Lithuanian-born father drove a cab, his mother — the Welsh-born daughter of a Ukrainian coal miner — was an expert knitter.
With anti-Semitism rampant, Adelson learned to fight. “We had to go to school with at least four kids,” Adelson recalls of his days at Roxbury Memorial High. “The Irish kids came out of the bushes and tenements with rubber hoses and chains and brass knuckles.” His escape, ultimately, was business: At 12 he borrowed $200 from his uncle to buy a newspaper corner. At 16 he bought vending machines, moving them from factories to gas stations popular with cabbies like his father. “There were places where they all went to get cheap gas, so there was traffic 24 hours,” Adelson says. “So I changed the paradigm from a 40-hour factory week to 24-hour activity.”
When Adelson was growing up, Dorchester was the second-largest Jewish community in the United States, second only to New York City.
3. What about his politics?
He's been playing politics in the big leagues for a while now. The main determinant of his support has remained the same throughout -- you have to be a staunch supporter of Israel. As Fred Zeidman, former chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, told The Washington Post in 2012, “Israel is at the core of everything he does."
He used to be a Democrat but switched affiliations in 1996. The Washington Post's 2012 profile explains the switch:
Friends say two shifts in Adelson’s thinking led to his party switch. On Israel, “he saw the left as more compromising, and Sheldon is not a great compromiser,” Chafetz says.
And Adelson’s opposition to unions alienated him from Democrats.
“What makes him anti-union is not the money,” Chafetz says. “It’s the union rules. He changed philosophically. He doesn’t want to be told he has to have four people do the job if two people can do it. Sheldon is all about accomplishment. It rules his life.”
During the 2012 election, he single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich's campaign alive and was the largest donor to "Restore Our Future," the Mitt Romney super PAC. He and his wife, Miriam, were the most magnanimous super PAC donors of the election cycle, by a large margin. They spent $92.8 million. The next largest donors, Harold and Annette Simmons, spent $26.9 million.
He didn't have much luck with the candidates he picked in 2012, so he is planning to winnow his funding for the 2016 election to a more moderate Republican candidate who could appeal to the general electorate. A fellow Las Vegas Sands board member told Matea Gold and Philip Rucker: “He doesn’t want a crazy extremist to be the nominee. 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.”
Adelson is also helping to fund Las Vegas's bid to host the 2016 Republican National Convention. His resorts would stand to gain a lot of business from the event, which attracts tens of thousands of visitors who happen to need hotel rooms and conference space.
He is also spending a lot of money on lobbying the government to ban online gambling. Nick Confessore and Eric Lipton published a comprehensive story on this effort yesterday.
The Center for Responsive Politics summed up the Adelsons 2014 spending so far in a blog post yesterday:
So far in the 2014 cycle, the three Adelsons and Lukatz have contributed $289,800 to a variety of committees and candidates. The bulk of the money has gone to Republican party organizations -- $64,800 to the National Republican Campaign Committee and $129,600 to the Republican National Committee. Just four individual candidates were Adelson recipients: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Lindsey Graham (R-N.C.), and Rep.Joe Heck (R-Nev.). Three of them are establishment Republicans fighting pitched battles against insurgent tea party candidates. The other one, Heck, represents part of Las Vegas.
He's planning to spend big in 2016 too. In December 2012, he told the Wall Street Journal he was ready to double his 2012 effort. "I'll spend that much and more. Let's cut any ambiguity."
4. Which potential presidential candidates are showing up to this conference?
The four people who are speaking at this year's Republican Jewish Coalition spring meeting look a lot like the moderate Republicans Adelson is apparently searching for.
Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor is the featured speaker at this weekend's VIP dinner -- which will take place in Adelson's private airplane hangar. Bush has been among the more whispered names in 2016 prognosticating, although his mom isn't quite sure it's a good idea, given the whole family dynasty thing. In the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 44 percent of Americans said they would either consider voting for or definitely vote for Bush. He is a vocal advocate for improving education, and many Republicans think he could help their party make gains with Hispanic voters.
Many of Adelson's friends seem to think Bush is the current front-runner in the "Sheldon Primary." Adelson gave to George W. Bush during his presidency.
Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor has lost some of his 2016 luster thanks to the scandal that has consumed most of his time in the past few months. Before heading out to Las Vegas, Christie needed to do some PR for the latest released documents from "Bridgegate." The internal investigation report states, "We have not found any evidence of anyone in the governor's office knowing about the lane realignment beforehand or otherwise being involved, besides Bridget Kelly." But, Christie's problems with the George Washington Bridge are unlikely to end here.
He is scheduled to speak at a Saturday morning meeting at the conference. Last August, Adelson hosted a fundraiser for Christie in Las Vegas -- although they were out of town during the event -- and gave $3,800 to his 2012 reelection campaign.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 47 percent of Americans would definitely vote for or consider voting for Christie.
Scott Walker: The Wisconsin governor's office has also faced an internal investigation, but it hasn't received as much press as Christie's. Walker gained national attention after his battle with labor unions in the state. In 2012, he became the first governor to win a recall election. Republican outside spending groups were heavily involved in both. During the 2012 recall, Adelson gave more than $250,000 to Walker's campaign. Walker leads his opponent 48 to 41 percent in the latest poll on 2014's gubernatorial election.
Before heading to Las Vegas, he signed a bill that restricts early voting in the state. Walker joins Christie in speaking at the Republican Jewish Coalition's Saturday morning meeting. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll has 37 percent of Americans saying they would definitely vote for or consider voting for Walker.
John Kasich: The Ohio governor said he has no "interest in the presidency" when asked by local reporter this month, but he'll fuel speculation in the opposite direction after speaking at a luncheon in Las Vegas this Saturday. Adelson gave about $11,400 to the Republican Governors Association's Ohio fund in 2010. During Kasich's tenure in Ohio, the state has built four casinos.
4. Who do drunk people think Sheldon Adelson will endorse?
Asked drunk guy in Venetian bathroom which GOPer Adelson would back. Started to speak, slipped, hit head on urinal. Out cold. He's okay now.— Joshua Green (@JoshuaGreen) March 27, 2014
5. Who do other people in Vegas think Sheldon will pick?
Also unclear. It's unlikely we'll know much more, even after the weekend ends.
"More than 6 million Americans enrolled under the ACA, White House says" -- Juliet Eilperin, The Washington Post
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