02:32 - Source: CNN
Ferraris, high-stakes croquet & GOP govs

Story highlights

Republican governors met in Boca Raton this week

Several potential 2016 presidential candidates attended

(CNN) —  

How many Ferraris does it take to impress a hotel valet in Boca? More than 25, apparently.

The guy driving us around the opulent Boca Raton Resort and Club in his hotel-issued golf cart was non-plussed by the abundant wealth on display in the driveways and parking lots around the property.

How many Ferraris were here? “Twenty to twenty-five,” he said, shrugging. How many BMWs? “Too many to count.”

This is Palm Beach County, of course, where money ain’t a thing.

But there was even more money here this week: The resort was playing host to the the Republican Governors Association’s annual meeting, always a magnet for major GOP donors, corporate fixers and political consultants looking to get some some face time, and maybe a contract or two, with the 31 Republican governors and governors-elect who now control state houses around the country.

“It’s a target-rich environment,” said Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “Governors are able to talk to businesses from around the country that are looking to re-locate and looking to expand … I’ve gotten a few scalps here.”

Perry joined a half dozen other potential 2016 presidential candidates, including Chris Christie, Rick Perry, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich and Mike Pence. They were all more than happy to soak up attention from admirers and make nice with potential contributors.

“If you are an individual who is running for office, this is a good place to be to meet people who have a lot really good ideas about how to to do public policy, and meet men and women who want to see good government put into place,” Perry said. “And it’s up to the point of, ‘Well, I’m gonna loan you not only my name, but lend you some money as well. I’m gonna contribute to your campaign.’ And that’s all good. That’s how this process works.”

All of this means that money is in the air at events like the one in Boca, which are as much about donor maintenance and business meetings as they are about electing governors.

When their donors are involved, the RGA likes to roll out the red carpet, holding their conferences at high-end resorts like this one: Past RGA meetings were held in Scottsdale, Aspen and Austin. Ferraris abound.

Republican governors and their entourages were everywhere at the resort — in hallways, quiet corners, busy coffee shops and fancy dinners — making time for admirers and at least feigning interest in pitch-men from companies like G.E. and Altria who stalked the corridors. Aides stood at the ready to take their business cards.

Meetings were taken, drinks were drunk, and golf was played.

At the hotel bar on Thursday, one foursome of Republican golfers proudly showed off a picture on their iPhones: They had been golfing nearby at The Bears Club, founded by Jack Nicklaus, and a cigar-chomping Michael Jordan played through. They snapped a pic of him putting.

The event attracted the usual pack of political press — including the “Hambycast” crew — eager to flee the freezing temperatures of Washington and meet sources, interview new governors and get an early bead on the Republican presidential race, which doesn’t seem like it will start as soon as reporters would like it to.

They also had to suffer through a barrage of cliches about governors knowing how to lead. Did you know that states are the laboratories of democracy? You do now.

Christie, the outgoing RGA chairman, passed the committee leadership baton to Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday, but not before basking in the glow of a successful election cycle. Swarmed by reporters every time he showed his face, Christie swatted away questions about his presidential thinking and insisted that he just wanted to reflect on a winning cycle and celebrate with his fellow Republicans.

“Christie did a fantastic job,” said Larry Hogan, the newly-elected Republican governor of blue Maryland and maybe the biggest surprise winner of 2014. “The candidates and the donors and everybody here are thrilled. You couldn’t do a better job, winning multiple blue states like Massachusetts and Illinois and Maryland. It’s a pretty big win for Chris Christie and the RGA.”

Hogan was like the star rookie at an NFL training camp, the subject of gentle ribbing from his more seasoned colleagues but also the buzziest newcomer in Boca.

“People said to me during the campaign that I seem like Christie with a softer edge,” he said. “We are both pretty blunt. They liked the fact that our personalities are similar.”

Few people thought Hogan could win when he announced his campaign — including Christie. “We were on the No-Way-In-Hell list for the RGA,” he said.

After Christie became convinced that Hogan could pull off a sleeper upset, he asked his fellow RGA leaders to make an investment in Maryland, even going into debt to do so. Other Republican governors were skeptical. “They were like, Christie have you been drinking?,” Hogan chuckled.

Now the governor-elect, Hogan indulged every major donor who wanted a handshake — and every every reporter who wanted an interview.

Perhaps he was too unguarded. He let slip a fact that no Marylander should ever reveal: He’s never watched “The Wire.” Not one season.

“Maybe I’ll watch them all when I retire,” he said.

And maybe he’ll retire in Boca.