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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his team are working hard to calm their major donors — some of whom are worried that Walker is on a downward slide and did little to help his campaign in Wednesday night's GOP debate.
On Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after Walker left the Simi Valley, Calif., debate stage, the presidential candidate and his team attended a fundraiser with several-dozen "bundlers" — well-connected donors who collect money from their friends on behalf of a candidate — at the Los Angeles home of Republican pollster Frank Luntz.
“My house is open to anyone who wants to use it,” Luntz said of the event.
The bundlers were assured they still had "a great product" in Walker and that the campaign is still expecting popular Republican outsiders Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson to "start to fade as people recognize they don't have the credibility to run the government," said a Walker bundler who attended the event.
Walker spoke for about half an hour, reassuring his donors that his team had a strategy in place to win the early-voting primary state of Iowa.
The bundler said he thought Walker "had a good enough night [at the GOP debate] for the bundler community to stay with him."
"Thankfully," the bundler added after a long pause.
One of Walker's donors, Minnesota billionaire and broadcaster Stanley Hubbard, said he intended to have a conversation with Walker soon, adding he would advise him on getting his campaign back on track.
"I've been in the TV business for a long time," Hubbard said. "You might have four or five potential anchors ... and you give them the same script to read. And for some reason, people think, 'Oh that guy's terrific.' And Walker says the right things, he's proven what he can do, but I come to work, I hear my wife, and they're not excited about what he did last night.
"He said all the right things, but it's like the anchor person," Hubbard added, calling Walker a "very decent guy and maybe he just needs some coaching. From the right people. Not the wrong people."
Hubbard said he and his wife would continue supporting Walker but would also be giving money to former business executive Carly Fiorina, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
After a feisty early start to Wednesday's CNN debate where Walker delivered an applause line — mocking Trump's reality TV show by saying that America doesn't need "another apprentice" in the White House — Walker was barely heard from again all night, speaking only eight minutes and 29 seconds, less than any other candidate on stage, according to NPR.
Despite optimistic talk from the Walker camp, his major donors remain unsettled. They have watched their candidate fall from first place in Iowa earlier in the year to seventh, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average.
Walker has also struggled with questions about his views on birthright citizenship and the possibility of a wall being built along the Canadian border.
But his donors are reassuring themselves that despite his low standing in polls, Walker is still viewed overwhelmingly favorably by Republican voters, even if he's not their first choice.
Few of Walker's donors will say anything negative about their candidate publicly, and even on the campaign's conference call Thursday, nobody pressed the candidate particularly hard on his performance, a donor who participated in the call said.
"It was pretty polite. ... I don't think anybody's going to go after Scott Walker on an open phone line," that donor said.
"[But], I mean, are there behind-the-scenes conversations? Yes."
The Walker campaign was hit Thursday by damaging rumors, published by The Washington Post, that the firing of campaign manager Rick Wiley was imminent.
Two sources who participated on the donor call said those rumors were not directly addressed, but were killed off in a more politically astute way.
Wiley took a leading role in the call, enthusiastically talking up Walker's debate performance before passing it over to the governor.
"Rick talked about how the governor's posture was more aggressive and he also made some policy proposals," a source on the call said. "He pointed out that while the governor only fielded three questions, he was tied for second in interjections."
Further reassuring donors on Wiley was Walker's National Finance Co-Chair Todd Ricketts — the son of major Walker donors Joe and Marlene Ricketts — who ended the call by saying "very positive things about Rick," the source said.
A second source on the call said he took the Walker campaign "at their word" that they would not be firing Wiley, but he added that "there are a lot of rumors out there."
"I thought [Walker] had an OK night," the donor said when asked about the governor's debate performance. "He's definitely had a better night than he did last time.”
The donor said he and his friends were reassuring themselves that over time, Trump and the outsiders would look less appealing next to Walker's substantive policy posture.
"We've got to sweat it out."
- Updated at 9:56 p.m.
Tags Scott Walker