JACKSON, Wyoming (Reuters) - Republican party grandees gathered in the shadow of Wyoming’s majestic Grand Teton mountains on Thursday for a high-dollar fundraising event that will add to presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s brimming campaign coffers.
Hosted by former vice president and native son Dick Cheney, who often goes fly-fishing for trout in nearby streams, the country club reception and dinner are expected to bring in $4 million for Romney, in one of the biggest fundraising nights of the 2012 election season.
Business and party figures will huddle at Jackson Hole, a rugged valley settled by beaver trappers in the 19th century that is now a playground for the rich who come for winter skiing and summer outings on the Snake River and a glimpse of bear, moose and elk.
The gathering is a stamp of approval for Romney from Cheney and the Republican establishment, which has long favored him as the party’s best chance to defeat President Barack Obama.
“I think it’s a strong endorsement for Romney by a very visible conservative figure in the Republican Party, and I think that’s a big plus for Romney that will help the enthusiasm of a lot of people on the conservative side,” said John Bolton, who served the Bush-Cheney administration as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Though the men are not close, Romney and Cheney are united in their belief that Obama must be defeated. Many of Romney’s foreign policy positions have been cheered by “neo-conservatives” associated with Cheney.
The evening begins at Teton Pines Country Club, nestled at the foot of the mountains amid Wild West-style scenery.
Attendees will pay $1,000 for a reception with Romney. Those who pay $10,000 will have their picture taken with Romney and $30,000 gets a seat later at a dinner table at the private home of Dick and Lynne Cheney.
The hawkish Cheney had emerged from seclusion in April after recovering from heart-transplant surgery to call the Democratic incumbent an “unmitigated disaster” and declare that Romney is doing a “whale of a job.”
Popular among conservatives, Cheney is a polarizing figure for many Americans. He was a strong proponent of the unpopular Iraq war launched by President George W. Bush and for the use of controversial interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects after the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The dinner, with about 200 guests, is co-hosted by Dick Scarlett, chairman and chief executive of United Bancorporation of Wyoming, and his wife Maggie, and former chief executive of Data Broadcasting Corporation Allan Tessler and his wife Frances.
The Wyoming gathering will bring Romney’s two-day haul to about $5.5 million after a $1.5 million fundraiser on Wednesday in Montana. That’s on top of the $106 million he and Republicans raised in June, a figure that far outpaced Obama’s total of $71 million for the month.
“The vice president has always lent his support to Republican candidates, so it’s not surprising that he would host a fundraiser for Romney. I think it’s terrific that he’s doing it,” said Tony Fratto, a former deputy press secretary for the Bush White House who heads the Bush-Cheney alumni association.
In spite of Romney’s fundraising prowess, he still faces major challenges in defeating the seemingly nimble Obama campaign, which has been attacking him over his past as a private-equity executive and demanding he release more information about his personal wealth to try to keep him off balance.
Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor, said appearing with Cheney could create an awkward image for Romney with the broader voting public.
“There are certainly more popular politicians that Romney could choose to associate himself with,” he said. “But the assumption is that $4 million is worth one bad headline in July.”
A Romney aide said the event was one of the single biggest fundraisers of the campaign thus far.
Romney is benefiting from the Republican apparatus left by the Bush-Cheney administration, although he was not a player in it.
Top aides Matt Rhoades and Ed Gillespie were veterans of the Bush years, but his inner circle is also made up of Massachusetts loyalists like Eric Fehrnstrom and Beth Myers who have been at the former governor’s side for years.
Of the powerful Bush political family, Romney is closest to former President George H.W. Bush, for whom Cheney served as defense secretary. The elder Bush, largely confined to a wheelchair, held a formal endorsement event for Romney at his Houston office back in the spring.
There has been no such event for Romney from Bush’s son, George W., who has vowed to stay out of what he calls the “swamp” of politics, although he has declared his support for Romney.
The event is another step for Romney in becoming the virtual leader of the Republican Party ahead of the convention in Tampa in late August when he will be formally nominated as the Republican nominee for the November 6 election.
Editing by Alistair Bell and Philip Barbara