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What Romney’s Donors Heard at This Weekend’s Utah Retreat

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images(PARK CITY, Utah) -- Mitt Romney’s donors attended a golf outing on Sunday at the Red Ledges Gold Club in Heber, Utah, but the excitement was really what went on Friday and Saturday at the events and panels.

Romney’s top donors were treated to panels on specialized policy topics, such as healthcare or the financial services industry, heard speeches from stars of the Republican Party, such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and were granted access to the presidential candidate’s senior advisors for information about the inner workings of the campaign.

All events were closed to reporters, but ABC News has the rundown of some of what these donors were privileged to hear.

James Baker

One of the first discussions Friday was a lecture from former Secretary of State James Baker III.  Rodger Young, a donor from Michigan and New York, described the speech as “positive” in tone and although he said Baker did say the country was in “significant trouble” because of the nation’s “debt burden,” the state of the world “internationally … isn’t as bad as you think,” specifically pointing out that America has “still by far the strongest military.”

Baker scolded the Obama administration for “ignoring any type of bipartisanship,” according to Young.

Mitt and Ann Romney Greet Attendees

Friday evening, donors were treated to a lavish reception at Park City’s Olympic Park.  Attendees watched Olympic hopefuls perform on the ski jump, which was used in the 2002 Olympics, but they also heard from the Romney couple.

Two donors from New Jersey who attended the reception said their highlight was Ann Romney’s speech, when she introduced her family and roasted her sons, four of whom attended.  On Saturday, Sen. John Thune said Ann Romney’s speech was “funny” and called Mitt Romney’s address “inspirational” in tone that went beyond just thanking the fundraisers, adding that the presumptive GOP nominee described how he wants to lead the country.

Larry Conti, a plus-one attendee from Los Angeles, said Romney mentioned the Brookings Institution study, often cited by Rick Santorum during the primaries.  Romney spoke about this study in his speech to the annual Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month.  The study found that marriage, education, and employment all play important roles in keeping people out of poverty.

McCain’s Morning Address

To kick off Saturday morning, Sen. John McCain addressed the donors.  Young told ABC News that McCain spoke about Iran, saying that “Iran is so much closer to nuclear weaponry than they were at the commencement of the Barack Obama term.”  McCain, who ran against President Obama in 2008, also discussed the “perceived weakness of the United States” in the world.

Innovation in America Panel


Attendees were then treated to a panel moderated by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who said the president “needs a lot of help in terms of understanding the private sector,” according to Young.  Two other vice presidential contenders, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and South Dakota Sen. John Thune, also sat on the panel along with Hewlett Packard CEO Meg Whitman, who discussed the “necessity to get people to graduate from our technical colleges.”  Billionaire financier and Home Depot founder Ken Langone also spoke, and according to Conti, relayed a message for the current administration: “Leave us alone and let us hire people.”  Conti said Langone told the audience with today’s “regulations,” he would not be able to start Home Depot.

Media Insight Panel

Karl Rove, founder of American Crossroads and a former Bush strategist, was also on hand.  He spoke on a “media insight” panel and on another one examining Romney’s path to victory.  Rove, dressed in a blue blazer, told reporters his panel was “damn good,” before whizzing away on a golf cart.

Attendees said the panel was engaging and humorous, with Rove swearing up a storm and regaling the crowd with funny stories.

Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz told reporters both Rove and GOP strategist Mary Matalin were making the crowd howl, telling them about when Vice President Dick Cheney accidentally shot a friend with bird-shot pellets on a hunting trip.

“He was on full display,” Chaffetz said of Rove.

It wasn’t all joking, though.  According to Young and his wife, Rove said, “We had to focus on some particular groups, such as some Republicans that didn’t vote in the last election,” including focusing on women.  It’s unclear whether Rove was also soliciting donations as he mingled with attendees over the weekend.

Campaign Debrief

Donors didn't just listen to the top leaders and thinkers of the Republican Party.  They also received a briefing by the Romney senior staff, including campaign manager Matt Rhoades, senior strategist Stuart Stevens, and longtime adviser Beth Myers, who is heading up the vice presidential selection process.  They described the campaign’s “10 a.m. meeting,” according to Chaffetz, who attended.

“I think people were fascinated by that,” Chaffetz said.  “They spent a good half hour showing them how they would do that, and what they would talk about and how they review the numbers and talk about messaging and develop that into a cohesive message that’s not only earned media but also paid media and other types of things.  That was really different than I think that most people thought.”

Chaffetz added that they went through “the analysis of what’s going on in the media, looking at polling, looking at all the different facets.”

Condoleezza Rice’s Show-Stealing Lunch

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was very well received, with almost every donor saying her speech was the highlight of the weekend.  She spoke with no notes and received a sustained standing ovation when she was done, according to several attendees.

Charles Cobb, who served as ambassador to Iceland from 1989 to 1992, said Rice was “spectacular” and described her as a “very bright, sophisticated, articulate lady.”

Husband-and-wife donors from Los Angeles who did not want to be identified said Rice’s message was one of “America needing to take charge.”

“We can’t stand by and let things happen,” the wife said.  “If we do, someone else will take that leadership role.”

They both described her address as an “impassioned plea” for the country to “stand up and take charge.”

Donor Kent Lucken, an international banker in Boston who moved back to his home state of Iowa for six weeks before the caucuses to help Romney, said “she rocked it.”

Jeb Bush Rounds Out the Night

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush spoke at the final reception on Saturday, and as donors were leaving to go to private dinners at restaurants and residences around town, one fundraiser from Greenwich, Conn., said Bush told the crowd “the country was only growing at 2 percent when we could be growing at 4 percent.  If the country was growing at 4 percent we could add on another country the size of Germany to the United States.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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