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Romney mingles at rarefied Utah resort as top donors taste victory

PARK CITY, Utah -- If Mitt Romney's presidential campaign were listed on the stock market, then those populating Utah's luxurious Deer Valley resort this weekend were its biggest shareholders.

PARK CITY, Utah -- If Mitt Romney's presidential campaign were listed on the stock market, then those populating Utah's luxurious Deer Valley resort this weekend were its biggest shareholders.

They showed off silver lapel pins signifying their elite status, carried around custom Vineyard Vines canvas totes and exuded collective amazement after watching Olympic ski jumpers do flips into a giant swimming pool.

But mostly they were here to take stock of their investment, Romney. And after two days of intimate mingling with the presumptive Republican nominee and his senior advisers at a rarefied retreat in Park City, they have grown bullish, saying they taste victory like never before in Romney's six-year quest for the presidency.

"The tide is turning in Mitt's favor," said Bobbie Kilberg, a top fundraiser from Virginia. "There's a real sense here that he can win, and it's not just that people are being Pollyannaish. You can feel it in the air. ... This place is full of kinetic energy."

This weekend's "Romney Victory Leadership Retreat" marked both the culmination of Romney's intense and relentless personal cultivation of political benefactors and an official comingtogether of GOP forces after a bruising primary season.

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Romney's wealthy supporters called the retreat the second most important event on the summer calendar, behind the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Romney's high command decamped here from Boston to rub elbows with top-flight donors, including the normally reclusive campaign manager Matt Rhoades and senior adviser Beth Myers, who is leading Romney's confidential vice presidential search.

The roughly 800 guests, who each contributed $50,000 or raised at least $100,000 for the campaign, reveled in unfettered access not only to Romney and his family -- Ann Romney gathered the women guests for an afternoon tea -- but also to many Republicans who could play important roles in his administration.

Among them were a handful of vice presidential prospects, including Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, who shared pizza and posed for pictures with donors at a hotel bar Friday night, as well as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

There were other Republican luminaries here as well, including Karl Rove, who runs the super PAC American Crossroads and held court at the five-diamond Stein Eriksen Lodge, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party's 2008 nominee.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a 15-minute luncheon speech on foreign and domestic policy Saturday that donors described as electrifying and had attendees on their feet twice.

One donor said Rice was "the star of the show," while another said that, if it was a vice presidential tryout, "she hit it out of the park."

The retreat, said Peter Wish, a Florida doctor, was "a combination of celebrating and cheering along with meeting with people who potentially could have a big impact in the administration."

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Wish enjoyed lunch Friday on a sundrenched patio alone with Michael Chertoff, a Romney adviser and former secretary of Homeland Security.

The donors -- many of whom are what Wish called "sales people," raising money from friends and associates -- received private briefings from Rhoades, Myers, chief strategist Stuart Stevens and message guru Eric Fehrnstrom.

More than a dozen senior campaign aides were on site, detailing the daily rhythms at Boston headquarters and their strategies in battleground states as well as enlisting some donors to serve on expanded policy advisory committees.

Some bundlers said finance chairman Spencer Zwick urged them to double their totals to achieve fundraising parity with President Barack Obama.

"A lot of people will go home and call a bunch of their friends and raise more money," said David Beightol, a Washington lobbyist and Romney fundraiser.

The retreat, which was closed entirely to the press, highlighted the degree to which Romney relies on deep-pocketed bundlers, whom his campaign has declined to identify.

During the primaries, his campaign has raised 60 percent of its money from people who gave the maximum legal amount of $2,500, according to the Campaign Finance Institute.

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