Romney Camp Slow To Attract Former Bush Donors

Republican donor Ray Washburne was a major contributor to George W. Bush's presidential campaign, and he was the national finance chairman for Tim Pawlenty. But when Pawlenty pulled out of the presidential race, Washburne tells Steve Inskeep that it took some time before deciding to back Mitt Romney's campaign.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Nobody has cast a vote in the presidential race, but we are deep into the money primary. Candidates compete for the support of people like the man we will meet next. Ray Washburne is a Dallas businessman whose enterprises include the Mi Cocina chain of restaurants. He was one of the men who raised what was then a record amount of money for the last Republican president.

RAY WASHBURNE: I was a Pioneer and a Ranger under President Bush, which means I was one of the top bundlers in the country in both 2000 and 2004. And bundling is - as an individual the only way you could help a campaign more than that thousand-dollar or two-thousand-dollar check was to go out and bundle up other people's money.

INSKEEP: Washburne was at the top of a fundraising pyramid. He found other people to donate and encouraged them to round up other donors. In 2004, his fundraising exceeded $200,000, which earned him a blue W tie.

WASHBURNE: And there was a lot of status to that. At political fundraisers you could see the other people with blue ties, and it was kind of the badge of honor to have one.

INSKEEP: Now a new presidential campaign is underway and Mr. Washburne has been active again. He started the campaign backing former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

What drew you to Tim Pawlenty in the beginning?

WASHBURNE: Well, I got to know Tim about two years ago when he was potentially going to be vice president candidate under McCain, saw what he did as governor of Minnesota, and our beliefs lined up very closely. And he came, stayed at my home several times. And so I got to spend many hours getting to know him. And I thought he was our best shot for this race. Began hosting some fundraisers for him, and unfortunately it didn't work out.

INSKEEP: You must've been disappointed when Pawlenty decided that he couldn't go on.

WASHBURNE: Disappointed and shocked.

INSKEEP: Shocked?

WASHBURNE: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we were in this for the long run. And the day of the straw polls there I was at the state fair.

INSKEEP: In Iowa?

WASHBURNE: In Iowa. And the governor and his wife determined that continuing on was just going to be too much money, and they weren't sure how they were going to get the funding to go forward.

INSKEEP: Once Pawlenty decided he was going to pull out, what were your thoughts?

WASHBURNE: Just like a girlfriend broke up with you suddenly and you weren't sure what your reaction was going to be. The first call I got that morning at 8:00 after he dropped out at 6:30 was from Mitt himself. And I've known Mitt for a number of years. And so I told Mitt just give me a little time to think about it.

And I went back home and dealt with my business and my family. And then after some time I prayed about it and decided that Mitt was the one that I want to go with. So I'm now with him and I'm going to build my network around him now and probably be one of his national co-chairs.

INSKEEP: What kinds of discussions have you had with your fellow Republicans? Because as you know very well, there's a degree of reluctance to embrace Mitt Romney.

WASHBURNE: There is, but there's really no alternative for them to consider right now, the legitimate candidate. In the midst of the economy we're in right now, a lot of the issues that get thrown up there, typically social issues and others, have all been kind of cast aside. It's all about the economy. How do we get it going again?

And Mitt has, you know, like a lot of candidates, you go back in history, that you get kind of stale on the shelf a little bit, because you've been out there so long. And Mitt's been running for a long time.

INSKEEP: Was it 450,000 that you raised for Tim Pawlenty?

WASHBURNE: Approximately.

INSKEEP: Of course, the people from whom you raised that money are free to contribute to another candidate. Do you go back to those same people and see if you can...

WASHBURNE: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Have you already started calling?

WASHBURNE: Yes.

INSKEEP: And what kinds of responses are you getting so far?

WASHBURNE: Initially, frankly, a lot of them wanted to see what Chris Christie was going to do. And now that Christie's come out in support of Romney, that's a huge help in raising. But everyone just kind of wanted to see - not that they were going to back Chris. They just wanted to see how did the field finally look.

INSKEEP: You know, you just explained something very well for me, because when Chris Christie briefly seemed like he might run, people said the race was suddenly frozen. That's what you're talking about, isn't it?

WASHBURNE: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Let me ask another thing. As a Texan who has been very active in the Republican Party and has raised many hundreds of thousands of dollars, I assume you're acquainted with your governor, Rick Perry.

WASHBURNE: Absolutely. I've raised a lot of money for Rick for governor over the years.

INSKEEP: Why not go with him?

WASHBURNE: Because I feel like Mitt has the business experience to run a complicated government that we're going to have. You know, look, I like Rick. I don't have anything against Rick. But on a national basis it's a different game.

INSKEEP: Did you get a call from him saying, oh, Ray, come on, come on?

WASHBURNE: I didn't get come on, come on calls. But, yes, I got many calls.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

WASHBURNE: So - but what I'm doing is what I feel is best for the country. And, you know, selfishly it'd be good to have a Texan in the White House for what it might do for the state. But, you know, I'm looking out for what I think would be best for the country.

INSKEEP: How much do you think you'll be able to raise for Mitt Romney? What's your goal?

WASHBURNE: Oh, I'll raise a substantial amount of money. I'll just leave it as that. I'll have a tie. Let me put it that way.

INSKEEP: You'll have a tie? OK.

WASHBURNE: I'll have a tie.

INSKEEP: Well, I look forward to seeing the time sometime, Mr. Washburne.

WASHBURNE: OK. Well, thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Dallas businessman Ray Washburne is now backing Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign.

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