Romney Time: Christie-holdout G.O.P. bundlers finally ready to settle for Mitt

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Georgette Mosbacher. (HarvardCPL, via flickr)
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With Governor Chris Christie confirming today that he won't seek the presidency, some big-name donors are finally ready to commit themselves to Mitt Romney.

"A lot of us who normally would have been in this presidential race a long time ago, have been waiting for Christie to make a decision," said Georgette Mosbacher, a Republican uber-fund-raiser and former finance co-chair of the Republican National Committee who was among a group of Republican bundlers hoping to convince Christie to enter the race. "I think tomorrow, we’ll be contacting one another and probably put something together with Romney."

"I’m going to go with Mitt Romney," said John Catsimatidis, another donor who had been intrigued with Christie, in a brief phone interview this afternoon.

"You're calling about yesterday's news," said Catsimatidis, who said he had gotten the indication Christie wouldn't run from some of the governor's advisers yesterday.

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Catsimatidis said he had started pitching Romney in the last couple weeks, on the expectation the governor wouldn't seek the nomination. At a meeting with other conservatives last Monday night, Catsimatidis said, he made the pitch for Romney's electability.

"The speech I gave to my conservative friends was, if you pick somebody who makes you 100 percent happy, you only get 47 percent against Obama," said Catsimatidis. "We have to capture the middle in order to win and make a change in this country. Ninety percent of them stood up and said, 'You’re right.'"

Mosbacher conceded there was "some disappointment" at Christie's decision, but said the public flirtation with Christie wouldn't make it tougher to raise for Romney, especially with Texas governor Rick Perry suddenly slipping in the polls after a couple of disastrous debate performances.

"Look, we’ll raise the money that’s necessary to beat Obama," she said. "It’s not going to be any harder than it would have been a month ago, or two months ago, or six months ago. Now it’s pretty clear. Perry has dropped pretty quickly. And I would say that the race is now Romney and Obama. Quite frankly, the enthusiasm wasn’t there at the outset. He’s less conservative than a lot of us would like. However, our first and foremost goal is to defeat Obama. And we do believe Romney, in terms of independents, will be a strong candidate. We will coalesce behind him now."

Mosbacher said the big bundlers in her circle "do not consider a Perry factor."

"I don’t think Perry has it in him to do it," said Catsimatidis. "He’s a lot better than Sarah Palin, but not a lot lot better. The danger is in the South, if the South fights the North all over again."

Catsimatidis said his level of involvement would depend on what the Romney campaign asks of him, but he expected to be more involved than simply cutting a check.

Mosbacher said she would be on the phone for Romney as soon as the Christie decision becomes official.

"The time has come. With the primaries being moved up, the time has come to get behind him," she said.

In the second quarter of this year, and the first after Romney officially announced his candidacy, the former Massachusetts governor raised $18 million dollars, substantially outraising every other challenger at the time.

But when Rick Perry, who has raised more than $100 million dollars in a decade as Texas governor, entered the race in August, he was expected to cut into some of Romney's support, and also collect many of the deep-pocketed donors who had yet to commit to Romney's campaign.

For a brief time after Perry's first debate, during which he and Romney aggressively attacked each other, it seemed as if a decision had been made among elite conservatives that the Republican primary had become a two-man race. ("From here on in, it's just Perry and Romney," wrote New York Post columnist John Podhoretz, in a column entitled "A national Republican star is born.")

On Perry's subsequent swing through New York last month, several New York fund-raisers quickly committed to hosting events for him, including real estate executive Myers Mermel, former Senate candidate David Malpass, and former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg.

Still, many of the biggest bundlers—like hedge-fund manager Paul Singer, who met with Perry on that trip, as well as Mosbacher—remained firmly uncommitted.

Then Perry stumbled, badly, muffing consecutive debate performances and trafficking in rhetoric not ordinarily associated with Republican primary candidates. As his fortunes dipped, those hold-out donors responded, in real time, by redoubling their efforts to recruit Christie into the race before the final filing deadlines for the state primaries, with the promise that there were still enough uncommitteds to fund a Christie campign.

That effort temporarily paralyzed the money race, and coincided with the end of the third-quarter filing deadline, leaving both Romney and Perry to lower their expectations to totals just north of $10 million. Romney supporters still reported better-than-expected turnouts at events in New York, but the race was clearly still at the mercy of Christie. The support of some of the top Republican bundlers in New York, and the country, was his to refuse, and finally, today, he refused it.

"Tomorrow I’ll be on the phone all day," Mosbacher told me today.

"Quite frankly, it’ll be easier, because now we know who it is who will be our nominee," she added. "So we will pull our Rolodexes out and get to work."

As for Christie?

"It’s good to have a great bullpen in the Republican Party for our future races," said Catsimatidis.

"I think he’s got to deliver New Jersey for our candidate, is now what we would hope," said Mosbacher.

CORRECTION: This article has been changed to reflect the fact that Mosbacher is no longer a finance co-chair for the R.N.C.