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November 23, 2017

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The GOP hopefuls and the billionaire donor: How their views align

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WASHINGTON — In today's political age, when candidates take a stand on an issue, they have to consider more than just how their views will play with voters.

Politicians often have to weigh how their policies will go over with billionaire donors who can buoy or sink campaigns.

That's because a 2010 Supreme Court decision lifted major pieces of campaign finance law and opened the door for billionaires to spend unlimited amounts of money influencing campaigns.

Big-money donors like Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson still can't contribute millions directly to campaigns, but they can fund independent Super PACs dedicated to helping specific candidates.

Adelson is a Republican megadonor whose millions in 2012 helped extend former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign in the GOP primary. All told, Adelson spent close to $100 million helping Republicans in the presidential race, and he plans to throw his weight behind a too-be-determined candidate this year, too.

The influence of wealthy donors on presidential politics can turn an event like this weekend's Las Vegas meeting of Adelson's Republican Jewish Coalition into a mini primary for 2016 GOP hopefuls courting Adelson's billions.

Three contenders — Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence — are scheduled to attend.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker walked the Adelson red carpet at last year's event, and plenty more White House hopefuls are expected to trek to Las Vegas this year to make their case for Adelson's cash.

Here's how their views match up with two of the biggest issues on which Adelson will be judging presidential candidates.

THE DONOR AND HIS VIEWS

Sheldon Adelson

Who he is: The gaming magnate and billionaire GOP donor has an outsized influence on the Republican party. And it appears that as his influence grows, so does his obsession with several pet projects, including:

Supporting Israel

Adelson is the son of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants and grew up to be one of hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's staunchest supporters.

"Adelson believes Jewish Americans should back an Israel that puts security first and resists compromise with Arabs who do not accept its existence," journalist Max Fischer wrote in 2012 in The Washington Post.

That means Adelson also is strongly opposed to a nuclear deal President Barack Obama is negotiating with Israel's stated enemy, Iran.

Banning online gaming

Online gaming, allowed to some degree in Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware and being considered by half a dozen other states, is a danger to society, Adelon says. He's behind a push in Congress to ban it all together and has said he'll spend "whatever it takes" to make sure it happens.

Adelson isn't expected to get behind a candidate until next year, but these two issues will likely help him make up his mind.

THE WHITE HOUSE HOPEFULS AND THEIR VIEWS

Jeb Bush

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush reacts to a question at the Mountain Shadows Community Center in Las Vegas Monday, March 2, 2015.

Who he is: The former Florida governor and son and brother of two presidents hasn't officially announced his candidacy, but he is pitching himself as the moderate, establishment GOP candidate. The Washington Post reported that after Adelson backed more far-right candidates in 2012 and lost, he is considering supporting someone more mainstream, like Bush.

What he's said on Israel: Bush supports "the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution," a spokesperson told The New York Times in March. Bush also said in March that Obama's nuclear negotiations with Iran "should have stopped a long time ago."

On online gaming: Bush said in 2011 he opposed expanding land-based gambling, but he's been quiet about online gaming, according to Online Poker Report.

It's possible he'll take a position soon: He was the featured speaker at a dinner Adelson hosted in March 2014 during last year's Republican Jewish Coalition meeting.

Marco Rubio

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In this Feb. 27, 2015, file photo, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks in National Harbor, Md.

Who he is: The first-term Florida senator, son of Cuban immigrants and one-time Las Vegas resident is likely to make a big play in Nevada, where a third of the residents are Hispanic, and he could use Adelson's help.

What he's said on Israel: Rubio also supports a two-state solution but said on the Hugh Hewitt Show in March, "You don't have the conditions today for that to happen." He also opposes Obama's Iran deal.

On online gaming: Rubio appears to line squarely with Adelson on this one. He opposes all online gaming — including poker. "It can affect people who are struggling economically," he said during a trip to Las Vegas in February.

Scott Walker

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In this May 3, 2014, file photo, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker speaks in Milwaukee.

Who he is: The Wisconsin governor, who hasn't officially announced his candidacy, is pitching himself as the Christian conservative candidate and is apparently being eyed by billionaire donors Charles and David Koch.

What he's said on Israel: Walker is another hard-liner on Israel. He told the Washington Examiner in March that he would reject Obama's deal with Iran and has criticized Obama for "giving the cold shoulder" to Netanyahu.

On online gaming: Walker has been silent about online gaming. But he rejected a bid for a casino in Wisconsin earlier this year. As a state legislator, he proposed legislation that would have barred casino operators from financing political campaigns, but as governor he took $270,000 from Adelson, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in April.

Chris Christie

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In this March 24, 2015, file photo, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie calls on an audience member to ask a question during a town hall meeting at the Hanover Township Community Center in Whippany, N.J.

Who he is: The New Jersey governor, who also hasn't announced his candidacy, is in the unique position of having expanded online gaming in his state. He signed a bill legalizing web gambling in February 2013. Courting Adelson with that record will be tough.

What he's said on Israel: Politico reported in March that Christie apologized to Adelson after he referred to Palestinian areas with an Israeli military presence such as the West Bank as "occupied territories," a no-go for people like Adelson who believe the land is rightfully Israel's.

On online gaming: "With the proper regulatory framework and safeguards that I insisted on including in the bill, I am confident that we are offering a responsible yet exciting option that will make Atlantic City more competitive while also bringing financial benefits to New Jersey as a whole," Christie said when he signed legislation legalizing web gaming in New Jersey.

The New York Times reported in February that before signing the legislation, Adelson let Christie fly on the mogul's private jet to Israel.

Rand Paul

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Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) makes a point while speaking to supporters during a campaign stop in Las Vegas at the Desert Vista Community Center in Sun City Summerlin on Saturday, April, 11, 2015.

Who he is: The Kentucky senator is the odd man out in this group courting Adelson. The libertarian-leaning candidate holds opposing views to tho those of Adelson on Israel and online gaming. He probably isn't going to be winning Adelson's support, though Paul wants to play well in Nevada's first-in-the-West caucus.

What he's said on Israel: Paul has called aid to Israel "welfare" and proposed ending foreign aid to the country. But he later backtracked on that comment.

"I'm for an independent, strong Israel that is not a dependent state, not a client state," Paul told The Washington Post in 2013.

On online gaming: "I'm opposed to restrictions on online gambling," Paul told Futures Magazine's The Alpha Pages in July 2014. "The government needs to stay out of that business."

Ted Cruz

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Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at Liberty University, founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, Monday, March 23, 2015 in Lynchburg, Va., to announce his campaign for president.

Who he is: The Texas senator is one of the party's furthest-right candidates trying to make a go at Adelson's support. He'll be in Las Vegas this weekend, and insiders will watch to see if Adelson backs someone like Cruz or a more moderate candidate.

What he's said on Israel: "Those who hate Israel hate America," Cruz told a crowd of Middle East Christians in September, according to The Daily Caller and Business Insider. This year, he co-sponsored controversial legislation with Nevada's Sen. Dean Heller to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the contested city of Jerusalem.

On online gaming: Cruz isn't on record as being for or against online gaming, but he has railed against bricks-and-mortar casinos.

He decried a federal travel-promotion program sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid and the rest of Nevada's delegation. "Last I checked, casinos were very profitable endeavors that didn't need the taxpayers helping them out," Cruz said.

Rick Perry

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Gov. Rick Perry, center, speaks during a news conference in the Governor's press room, Monday, July 21, 2014, in Austin, Texas.

Who he is: The former Texas governor and 2012 presidential candidate is considering another run and plans to be in Las Vegas this weekend for Adelson's event.

What he's said on Israel: Perry has shown his support for Israel recently by voicing opposition to Obama's nuclear deal with Iran. Like Walker, he said he would "suspend negotiations" if he were in charge.

On online gaming: Last March, Perry sent a letter to Congress supporting a bill to ban online gaming, The Hill newspaper reported.

"When gambling occurs in the virtual world, the ability of states to determine whether the activity should be available to its citizens and under what conditions...is left subject to the vagaries of the technological marketplace," he said.

Mike Pence

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence holds a news conference at the Statehouse in Indianapolis, Thursday, March 26, 2015.

Who he is: The Indiana governor is also contemplating a run. He'll be in Las Vegas this weekend, and Ken Vogel of Politico reports Pence could be seriously shopping for the support of the Koch brothers.

What he's said on Israel: Pence falls right in the middle of the pack, telling Congress in 2007 he supports a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine. In March, he said Congress should be able to decide on ratifying Obama's nuclear agreement with Iran, a position held by most Republican contenders.

On online gaming: Pence supports Adelson's online gaming ban. He wrote a letter in May 2014 to the Indiana delegation asking lawmakers to support a bill in Congress to do just that, PokerUpdate reported.

States should have the right to decide gaming laws for themselves, but "Internet gambling crosses state lines" and should be banned, he wrote.

Lindsey Graham

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U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit Saturday, April 18, 2015, in Nashua, N.H.

Who he is: The South Carolina senator is "testing the waters" for the presidency, even though he'd be considered a long shot.

He does appear to have the ear of Adelson, though. In March, The Washington Post reported Adelson hosted a fundraiser for Graham.

On Israel: "I've got a lot of support from the pro-Israel funding," Graham told the Wall Street Journal this week. Graham is a staunch ally of Israel, but he does support the limited nuclear deal Obama is making with Iran.

On online gaming: Graham led the charge in the Senate last Congress to ban online gaming and is expected to do the same this Congress, though insiders aren't sure why he hasn't introduced a bill yet. He said in March that he would take time to introduce a bill, "if the world would stop blowing up."

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