Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney came to the Garden State today to raise money for one of his most loyal New Jersey supporters -- and fill his own campaign coffers.
The former Massachusetts governor headlined a $5,000 per plate fundraiser at the Bernardsville home of Ed and Nancy Deutsch, raising about $400,000 for the fledgling campaign of U.S. Senate candidate Joseph Kyrillos, a state senator from Monmouth County and longtime friend of Gov. Chris Christie. About 80 people attended the fundraiser in the wealthy neighborhood.
After that, Romney left to attend another private fundraiser in Short Hills, hosted by hedge fund billionaire David Tepper and Clifford Sobel, a former ambassador to Brazil and the Netherlands. Both fundraisers were closed to the press.
"I'm proud of it, and what it really means is that people understand that we need to do better, we need a different U.S. senator, and I'm grateful that they're rallying to my side," said Kyrillos. He added that Romney "talked about the fact that in America we can do better and we've got to do better."
One of the donors at the Short Hills fundraiser was Steven Klinghoffer, who leads a communications marketing firm. Klinghoffer said Romney took questions from the donors as they sat around a table , and answered questions about "a little bit of everything," including Iran and U.S.-Israel relations.
"He was very knowledgeable about the issue. He made the point, which I think a lot of elected officials don't realize, is Iran is a great threat to the United States," said Klinghoffer. "This is not an issue for Israel, this is an issue for the world, and Iran is probably the world's greatest sponsor of terrorism. ... The impact they would have on the United States could be terrible. "
The Menendez campaign painted Kyrillos and Romney as favoring the rich over the middle class.
"Mitt Romney coming to New Jersey to raise campaign cash for Joe Kyrillos makes perfect sense considering how "seriously conservative' and out of touch they are with the challenges that hard-working middle-class New Jersey families face every day," said Michael Soliman, Menendez's campaign manager.
Kyrillos, who was Romney's most high-profile New Jersey backer during his unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination four years ago, hopes to be the first Republican New Jersey elects to the U.S. Senate since 1972.
As of April 1, Kyrillos had $1.4 million in the bank to Menendez's $9.5 million. And a Monmouth University/NJ Press Media Poll released last week shows Kyrillos is virtually unknown outside of his legislative district: Just 19 percent of New Jersey voters recognize his name. The same poll found voters approve of Menendez's job performance 40 percent to 25 percent, while 35 percent have no opinion. But when asked if Menendez should be sent back to Washington, 32 percent percent of voters say no and just 26 percent say yes, while 41 percent are undecided.