* Big Republican donors still won't commit to a candidate
* Just third of cash raised four years ago pledged so far
* Perry courts Wall Street, plays catch-up with Romney
By Kim Dixon
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Big Republican donors are
still undecided on Rick Perry or Mitt Romney as their party's
best chance to defeat President Barack Obama in the November
2012 presidential election.
Only about a third of the Republican campaign cash raised
four years ago has been committed so far for the upcoming
election -- a sluggish pace that is unlikely to pick up before
"I haven't seen any sort of huge swell of traditional Bush
supporters going anywhere yet," said Jan Baran, former general
counsel to the Republican National Committee who advised
President George H.W. Bush.
The big money remains on the sidelines for a few reasons.
There are eight established candidates in the race but the
competition between the front-runners -- Texas Governor Perry
and former Massachusetts Governor Romney -- is just too close
While there is no question that the donations will
eventually start flowing, party insiders have not finished
debating whether Perry or Romney is more electable when facing
Both Perry and Romney are aggressively courting big donors,
who will be vital to mounting a national campaign next year and
going up against a president who broke fundraising records in
Despite a faltering economy and slumping popularity, Obama
is off to a strong fundraising start. His campaign has raised
$47 million, which dwarfs all Republican contenders.
Romney, who has dropped behind Perry in national polls,
took in $18 million during the second quarter of the year.
Perry, who entered the race last month, has yet to report
fundraising figures. But finance experts expect he will be a
formidable rival to Romney after having raised $39 million in
his last race for governor in 2010.
One media report said Perry's campaign aimed to raise at
least $10 million out of the gate. That comes as Romney's
collections are expected to dip to below $10 million in the
third quarter, according to a source close to his campaign. The
third quarter is a traditionally weak fundraising period.
Still, Perry has ground to make up. Romney's campaign is
much more established after a presidential run in 2008 and, as
co-founder of buyout firm Bain Capital, he has ties to deep
pockets on Wall Street.
PERRY HEADING TO WALL STREET
"Perry is largely unknown, certainly here in New York,"
said Joe Schmuckler, an investment manager at Medley Capital
who was Republican nominee John McCain's treasurer in 2008 and
is now backing Romney. "Perry is working hard to put together a
network but Romney is way ahead" in the New York area.
Perry hits New York City this month for his first major
Wall Street events. He will be hosted by Hank Greenberg, the
former long-time chief executive of AIG, the insurance firm
that imploded during the 2008 financial crisis.
Perry could benefit from ties to Rudy Giuliani, who Perry
endorsed when the former New York mayor ran in the 2008
Republican race. Giuliani has not made an endorsement yet.
Both candidates trek to Washington later this month, where
they will woo established Republican donors.
Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of
Wholesaler-Distributors who was finance chair for Giuliani's
2008 White House run, is hosting Perry.
"Several have come on board already and I expect the list
to grow rapidly between now and Governor Perry's first
Washington event on Sept. 27th," Van Dongen said.
Romney's Washington backers include American Bankers
Association President Frank Keating, a former governor of
Oklahoma, but he has been having fundraisers for months.
Several major Republican donors have not revealed their
Ken Griffin, chief executive of hedge fund giant Citadel is
on the sidelines and early Home Depot Inc investor Ken
Langone is also uncommitted.
RELYING ON ROVE
Donors now have more options after the Supreme Court's
ruling involving the conservative activist group Citizens
United and other legal decisions. The Citizens United decision
lets corporations and individuals make unlimited donations to
presidential candidates as long as they go through committees
not technically associated with the official campaign.
American Crossroads, the big-spending group conceived by
Republican strategist Karl Rove, is seen as the perfect
depository for the Republican investor who has not made up his
mind about a candidate.
"There is no better political investment than putting money
in Karl's hands," said a former big fundraiser to President
George W. Bush.
Fred Malek, a veteran Republican fundraiser who founded the
spending group American Action Network, said donors to some
extent have the luxury to wait for a sure thing.
"In the McCain campaign, for example, during the primary we
had very difficult time raising money and all of a sudden we
became the leader and money flooded in," Malek said.
(Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Eric Johnson;
Editing by Bill Trott)
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