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AT THE NEW YORK STATE REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE'S ANNUAL annual dinner in Midtown on Wednesday evening, a rumor buzzed around the ballroom that Perry might make a surprise appearance, threatening to eclipse Reince Priebus and Mississippi's governor Haley Barbour, who are respectively the current and former chairs of the Republican National Committee, and Congressman-elect Bob Turner, who had just become a Republican hero by winning a special election in New York’s Ninth District in Brooklyn and Queens.
In fact, Perry was a few blocks away, dining with Donald Trump at Jean-Georges, after which the two stopped in at the Sheri Hill show at Fashion Week. ("I had dinner last night with Jim Perry, I was impressed with him,” Trump said, sic, the next day.)
Perry never made it to the state committee dinner, to the grumbling of some supporters who considered it a perfect opportunity to address the party faithful. But, from afar, he had already begun laying the groundwork to court the finance-industry types who dominate the roles of top Republican donors in New York.
Last week, in the second presidential debate he attended, Perry said, “This president does not understand how to free up the small businessmen and women or, for that matter, Wall Street." (Defenses of Wall Street were not a staple of his rhetoric in Texas.)
Later in the week, as opinion piece was published under his byline in the Wall Street Journal calling for a strong defense of Israel at the United Nations this week, when, as it happens, he'll be in New York.
(“What he has articulated is something people appreciate,” said Rabbi David Zwiebel, the executive vice president of Agudath Israel, an American organization that is associated with right-leaning religious political parties in Israel. Zwiebel, who recently met with Michele Bachmann, said that the governor was meeting with other members of the Orthodox community during the New York swing, and that “He sort of talks a good game, and I would anticipate that we’ll learn a lot more about him when he starts meeting with the Jewish community.”)
Last week, when Tim Pawlenty endorsed Mitt Romney, it was widely interpreted as a sign that the Republican establishment was uneasy with the new front-runner, but once you get a little further out from the party than Mosbacher and her friends, it's not clear that the unease is widely shared.
One former Pawlenty fund-raiser I talked to said, “I think I know more Pawlenty people who are supporting Perry than are supporting Romney."
According to several sources, Perry has been able to peel off at least a handful of important fund-raisers who had previously tilted toward Romney. (Hank Greenberg, who is hosting an event for Perry this week, contributed the maximum $2,500 to Romney’s campaign in June. Greenberg did not return a call for comment.)
Certainly, Romney is still the guy who's plugged into the donor class in New York, even as Perry races through the introductory phase of his national donor courtship. At a fund-raiser at the Long Island home of John Paulson two weeks ago, the Romney campaign announced, it raised $300,000 from that single event, having taken in another $250,000 at an event earlier in the day, according to one person in attendance. Romney raised $18.25 million in the second quarter of this year, along with $11.2 million for his super PAC, Restore Our Future.
“The fund-raising community, they’re really for Romney," said one prominent Republican who is uncommitted. "Those are his people, that’s what he is. He doesn’t pretend to be anything else. That kind of personality appeals to the Wall Street crowd. They understand he is what they are, competent problem-solvers, has held high positions in financial firms. This is a person who they would feel very comfortable with running the economy, from a governmental point of view.”
Perry declared after the second-quarter filing deadline, so the level of his support remains a mystery, for now. But he raised more than $100 million dollars for his gubernatorial campaigns over the last decade, taking advantage of Texas' permissive campaign finance laws and some very committed contributors. That was enough for him to be named the chair of the Republican Governors Association, a key position for the party's national fund-raising, before he stepped aside to run for president.
The question is whether he can replicate that success, in his own cause, when he's far from home.
“I think Rick Perry is a good governor, but I’m not sure if he can get the 51 percent," Catsimatidis said. "If he doesn’t appeal to the 10 percent in the middle, then he’s just whistling Dixie. No pun intended.”