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Cruz, Rubio line up to steal away Bush supporters

<p>When the Republican contenders audition this week before more than 600 deep-pocketed, security-focused donors, it might seem like they’re playing for the home crowd. But the annual Republican Jewish Coalition gathering carries serious risk for candidates not fluent on the issue. </p><p>Just ask Chris Christie, who had to apologize after referring to the West Bank as “occupied territories” during his remarks to the group last year.</p><p>This year’s gathering at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington is a policy test before an influential and well-versed audience. The terrorist attacks on Paris and heightened tensions with Russia have refocused the GOP presidential field on the RJC’s top concerns — foreign policy and national security — adding uncertainty to an already unpredictable primary that lacks a consensus front-runner.</p><p>“It’s a moment in the post-Paris atmosphere for the candidate to deliver something big and major, because people are going to be paying attention,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary and RJC board member who has helped organize the event. “This audience is pretty sophisticated, politically involved and they’ve heard a lot of speeches before.</p><p>“But it’s fair to say this audience will be up for grabs if the race continues on these current lines — and it’s a real opportunity for these candidates to win some support if they can demonstrate some depth of understanding on policy issues.”</p><p>That’s certainly the case for Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, but for Jeb Bush, this event is an exercise in damage control. Many of the RJC board members scheduled to attend have already committed to a candidate, and some are now shopping for a plan B, especially those who threw their support behind Bush early on.</p><p>“Most of the people I speak to, none of them regard Jeb Bush as politically alive,” said a longtime RJC board member based in New York City, who requested anonymity to speak freely. “A lot of people on the RJC were very early committed to Jeb because of friendships and relationships. Now that Jeb has run out of steam, I don’t know where any of them stand.</p><p>“Most people I know now are talking up Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz,” he continued.</p><br><p>Donald Trump, whose rambunctious projection of strength has kept him atop the polls for months, is also set to attend the RJC event, although he does not have strong support from many of its members.</p><p>Ben Carson, another outsider who was positioned near the front of the pack until the recent events overseas unmasked his lack of knowledge about foreign policy, is also scheduled to attend.</p><p>Several of Bush’s most prominent Jewish supporters will host a breakfast meeting on the sidelines of the RJC forum on behalf of his Right to Rise super PAC, which will look to convince supporters it’s worth staying the course and waiting for the group to spend more of its $100 million war chest on TV ads (thus far, the group’s first $24 million in ads has done nothing to move Bush’s numbers).</p><p>Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a fundraising juggernaut with strong RJC ties who was brought into the fold earlier this year as a campaign co-chairman, will address attendees along with Right to Rise executive director Mike Murphy. Both are set to update attendees on Right to Rise’s efforts on Bush’s behalf and its view of the GOP primary, in which Bush continues to lag Trump, Carson, Rubio and Cruz.</p><p>“Obviously, it’s to bring everyone up to date and to cultivate anybody who hasn’t made a decision yet,” said Fred Zeidman, an RJC member and Bush supporter from Houston who noted that no donation is required to attend the breakfast. “It’s never been portrayed to be a fundraiser.”</p><p>Nearly every GOP candidate will be in town to speak to and take questions from moderator Matt Brooks, even long-shots like George Pataki and Jim Gilmore.</p><p>But the real battle is between Bush, thought to be the establishment front-runner when the year began, and Rubio and Cruz, who are ascendant now.</p><p>Thursday night, following the event, Rubio will hold a fundraiser in Washington looking to consolidate support from RJC members. Cruz will do the same thing in New York City.</p><p>Although billionaire Paul Singer has already thrown his support behind Rubio, and Sheldon Adelson is reportedly likely to follow suit, Bush’s super PAC believes it can make a compelling argument to RJC members in town for meetings that the war chest the group amassed in the first half of the year will be able to engineer a comeback — and that Bush, as a candidate, stands to do better as voters focus more on sobering issues like national security.</p><p>Bush, based on the list of hosts for the 7:30 a.m. meeting Thursday, already has solid support from a number of RJC board members. Hosts listed are Yitz Applebaum, Josh Bolten, Steve Friedman, Sam Fox, Cheryl Halpern, Fred Karlinsky, George Klein, Ronnie Krongold, Bernie Marcus, Ken Mehlman, Robert Schostak, Mel Sembler, Florence Shapiro and Zeidman.</p><br><p>While many Bush backers committed to him early, a number of donors are now considering spreading their money around, wary of completely committing to a candidate when the race remains so unsettled.</p><p>For instance, Howard Jonas, an oil magnate, is listed as a co-host for a fundraiser for Cruz in New York City on Thursday hours after he is scheduled to address the RJC conference. But Jonas has also hosted a fundraiser for Rubio at his home.</p><p>Rubio has a long list of RJC members supporting him, too: Wayne Berman, Mark Bowman, Phil Rosen, Larry Mizel, Jeffery Feingold, Elliott Lawler, Rick Horvitz, Brad Rose and Steve Louro, along with Singer, who is working his own network to secure new contributions on Rubio’s behalf.</p><p>“I’ve been getting exhortations from Paul Singer to support Rubio,” one RJC member said. “We’re not all there yet, but you do sense there’s a lot of interest. Our group is reflective of the race generally in that most of the excitement now is about Rubio and Cruz.”</p><br>

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