After a right turn at Democrat Alley (the actual name) and another down an unpaved road, some of the biggest Republican power players are taking shots with a long-shot presidential candidate.
“Don’t shoot yourself in the foot, it’s the first goal of shooting skeet and the first goal of politics,” Senator Lindsey Graham joked with reporters at the Lions Club shooting range in Park City, Utah.
On the final day of former Governor Mitt Romney’s three-day E2 Summit, the South Carolina lawmaker was one of six presidential hopefuls looking to court a crowd of 250 well-connected Republicans who had helped Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Potential donors were drawn to the event by a schedule of high-powered speakers and signature “enthusiast sessions,” which allowed them to indulge in a little R&R with would-be Republican presidential nominees. There was also a game of flag football with Senator Marco Rubio and, yes, early morning skeet shooting with Graham.
Donning khakis, an olive green sweatshirt, a black baseball cap and worn-in white sneakers, Graham — an avid hunter — had the chance to show off his well-known Southern charm…toward some.
“Is that the press? Turn on 'em!” Graham yelled. “Dream come true, they’re all in a wad.”
Graham said it had been more than two years since he last took aim at a clay pigeon, but the South Carolina senator seemed more in his element courting donors along a dirt road than he had walking the halls of the five-star luxury lodge where the summit took place.
Graham took a few minutes to help Yahoo news anchor Katie Couric work on her form, offered praise to Romney’s former Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healy’s impressive shot and, then, in true Graham fashion, cuts to the point.
“Who’s giving me money?” he said.
While many donors are looking at the crowded Republican field seeing who has the best shot at a nomination and, ultimately, a win in the general election, a fun-and-games event was more than just political theatrics.
Potential donor Jon Lubert, the founder of JL Square Group, LLC, said that small settings like the early morning shooting range let potential donors see the true man or woman behind a campaign.
“You’re able to learn about their policies at a regular conference,” Lubert said. “This helps us make a determination based on relatability and policy as to who we’re going to support.”
Graham, who’s running a national security-centric campaign, took time to merge policy and recreation. He chatted with reporters about his ideas for gun policy and held shotguns with a group of fellow skeet “enthusiasts,” saying “we’ll send this to the terrorists.”
The events are “more than fun, you build a camaraderie with these candidates that can be helpful,” Leonard Harlan, co-founder and CEO of Castle Harlan, said. “This is what’s missing from Congress. It helps you see that everyone puts their pants on one foot at a time.”
Kent Lucken, a Romney fundraiser who is throwing his support behind former Governor Jeb Bush of Florida agreed. “It helps people just get to know the person, just who they are, what their values are and what they stand for in a smaller group format rather than the normal speech and cocktail scene,” Lucken said.
For Graham, the opportunity for schmoozing and showing off his Southern charm seems to be paying off. According to the senator, the weekend in Utah helped him “pick up some investors.”