GOP hopefuls court K St.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) are vacuuming up support from a small group of inside-the-Beltway players with proven records raising millions of dollars, finessing policy and generating political buzz.

McCain leads the pack in attracting the K Street glitterati, and now boasts the lion’s share of the Republican establishment. Those with close ties to President Bush, in particular, have thrown their support to him.

Perhaps McCain’s biggest pickup is Charlie Black, chairman of BKSH & Associates, who has become an informal spokesman of the Republican establishment in recent years. Black said several campaigns contacted him but he decided early to support McCain, who he said was a friend of almost 30 years.

“I heard over time from the other campaigns,” said Black, who has been involved with presidential campaigns since 1976. “I’ve always made my decisions, going back to Reagan, on who to support based on who is the best conservative with a chance to win the nomination.”

McCain has also landed Rich Bond, political director to former President George H.W. Bush and Republican National Committee chairman during that administration.

McCain has courted K Street more aggressively lately, meeting lobbyists and business community representatives in early February, said a supporter who attended. Yesterday he announced the backing of Tom Loeffler, chairman of The Loeffler Group, who raised $375,000 for Republicans in 2004.

Bush “pioneer” fundraisers supporting McCain include Wayne Berman and Richard Hohlt locally, and Michigan residents Ronald Weiser and James Nicholson. Each raised more than $100,000 for one of Bush’s presidential campaigns. Other major Bush fundraisers supporting McCain are David Metzner, of American Continental Group, and David Girard-diCarlo, of Blank Rome.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) has been one of McCain’s chief liaisons in wooing K Street’s support. Lott met lobbyists at a local hotel in December to tout his fellow senator, returning the favor McCain did for him last year by campaigning for Lott’s successful Senate leadership race.

Despite being Washington outsiders, however, Romney and Giuliani have also won the allegiance of Beltway insiders.

Giuliani scored a coup by signing up Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, said a former senior GOP congressional aide who discussed the candidates’ supporters. Van Dongen has helped attract allies such as James Miller of Hunton & Williams to the former mayor’s campaign.
“The candidates are always looking for the top coordinators,” said Miller. “When Dirk gave me the call it said a lot to me that he was supporting Rudy and it was an easy decision.”

Giuliani has intensified his courting of K Street in recent weeks. Two weeks ago he held two meet-and-greet sessions that drew about 160 people. He is planning a D.C. fundraiser for March 22 that is expected to raise about a half-million dollars. Close to 60 supporters have signed up as co-hosts of the event, said a person familiar with the planning.

Giuliani has also attracted his share of Bush insiders and major fundraisers. Theodore Olson, who served as Bush’s solicitor general from 2001 to 2004, is behind Giuliani. So are pioneers Bill Paxon, of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Peter Terpeluk, who is hosting the March fundraiser for Giuliani.

Romney’s K Street honchos are former Rep. Vin Weber (R-Minn.), of Clark & Weinstock, and Ron Kaufman, of Dutko, who served as political director to President George H.W. Bush.

Nearly 60 members of the D.C. Republican establishment co-chaired or co-hosted a fundraiser for Romney on Feb. 27, including Bush’s sister, Doro Bush Koch. Weber, who is serving as Romney’s policy chairman, said K Street allies can help presidential candidates by raising money, providing political and policy expertise, and generating media buzz. That’s especially important when the candidate is a D.C. outsider.

 “I think the Republican Party needs a fresh face from outside of Washington and the Republican Party needs someone of unquestioned personal integrity,” said Weber, explaining a few reasons for why he is supporting Romney.

Republican insiders pick their 2008 candidates