WILSON, Wyo. — Here was one of the biggest endorsements of Mitt Romney’s political career, an embrace from a man who has served five presidents and who said he has strong feelings about what the country needs in a commander in chief.
“Looking back and reflecting on that, I think there’s only one man to be president of the United States who meets those requirements, and that’s Governor Mitt Romney,” Richard B. Cheney said here Thursday.
But on the evening when the divisive former vice president opened his home at the foot of Wyoming’s majestic Teton Range to host a $4 million fundraiser for the presumptive Republican nominee, Romney’s campaign labored to avoid any photos or videos of the two men together.
While Thursday night’s fundraiser in some ways symbolized a passing of the torch from the previous Republican administration to Romney, Cheney remains a deeply polarizing figure, and Romney campaign aides went to great lengths to control how much the public would see from the event.
When Romney arrived at the Teton Pines Country Club for a late-afternoon reception, he was spotted shaking Cheney’s hand and giving Lynne Cheney a kiss on the cheek. But campaign aides quickly escorted reporters who were watching the exchange out of view.
A limited pool of reporters attended a reception on the Arnold Palmer-designed golf course here where Romney and Cheney spoke, but in keeping with the campaign’s policies for coverage of fundraising events, they were not allowed to take pictures or film the remarks.
Cheney introduced Romney and said he was confident the former Massachusetts governor would lead the nation through an unanticipated crisis such as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I’m convinced that in addition to all of these other qualifications that you all know about, when I think about the kind of individual I want in the Oval Office in that moment of crisis, who has to make those key decisions, some of them life-and-death decisions, decisions as the commander in chief, who has the responsibility for sending our young men and women in harm’s way – that man’s Mitt Romney,” Cheney said.
Romney, in his 20-minute speech, complemented Cheney. “That’s quite a man, quite a leader,” he said.
But he made no mention of President George W. Bush.
Later, Romney and his supporters retired to Cheney’s private residence — on a quiet cul-de-sac with wildflowers in the driveway and a backyard opening onto the golf course — for a $30,000-a-couple dinner. No reporters were allowed at the home, but a pool reporter covering the earlier reception could overhear Romney in his dinner remarks mention Bush’s name – something he rarely does on the campaign trail. A campaign aide soon hurried the reporter out of earshot.
For some of Romney’s donors, Thursday’s visit to Cheney’s home was a major draw. Some supporters said they flew from across the country to this summer getaway. The eight members of Romney’s National Finance Committee – including Romney’s older brother, Scott; New York Jets owner Woody Johnson; and finance chairman Spencer Zwick — were here as well and held a strategy meeting earlier in the day in the Jackson Hole area.
There did not appear to be many former Bush administration officials, although many of the Republican Party’s biggest rainmakers were in attendance, including oil magnate Harold Hamm, who heads Romney’s energy task force; and investor Foster Friess, who bankrolled a pro-Rick Santorum super PAC that attacked Romney in the primaries.
Although campaign fundraisers anticipated the Wyoming events would raise about $2 million, a campaign official said it raised more than $4 million. The dinner at Cheney’s home, which cost $30,000 a couple, was so oversubscribed that finance officials told donors who had already maxed out to the campaign that they could only attend the dinner if they raised an additional $30,000 from friends or associates.
In total, more than 500 people attended the events, many of whom swilled wine and nibbled on hors d’oeuvres as they waited to have their picture taken with Romney against a blue backdrop with U.S. and state flags. About 250 people then crossed the golf course to dine at Cheney’s residence.