The Sheldon Adelson primary is already underway. As Republican presidential hopefuls prepare to meet with Adelson at an exclusive gathering in Las Vegas this week, The Washington Post is out with a telling report.
The billionaire mogul and casino magnate who spent more than $92 million on losing president candidates in 2012 intends to put his money behind the Republican with the clearest shot at winning the White House in 2016, according to people familiar with his thinking. (Adelson almost single-handedly kept Newt Gingrich alive during the 2012 Republican primaries before going on to back another loser, Mitt Romney.)
"The bar for support is going to much higher," Andy Abboud, a top political adviser to Adelson and executive at Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp., told The Post. "There's going to be a lot more scrutiny."
While Adelson has said that his decision will be governed by electability, there is one pet issue of his that stands above all the rest: his push to kill online gambling.
Adelson has already found champions for the leglislative effort in GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham is expected to introduce a Senate bill later this week restoring the pre-2011 federal ban on Internet gaming; Chaffetz will introduce a companion measure in the House.
The optics aren't particularly good.
While Chaffetz has long expressed skepticism about online poker, Graham has been silent on the issue until now. The latter's interest coincides with a cash infusion from Adelson, who dropped more than $15,000 on his 2014 bid to earn reelection, as National Journal reported last week. While Graham's Senate campaign isn't thought to be in any real danger, prudent political alliances could be part of the reason he's survived on the Hill as long as he has.
Presidential hopeful Rick Perry (R) has also joined the fun, calling for a "time-out" for internet gambling in a letter to Congressional leadership and leadership of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Monday. Perry received funding from Adelson during his gubernatorial campaign in 2007.
Meanwhile, Adelson has hired former Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln to help him with the push.
There's no question that Adelson is willing to spend millions to stop Internet gambling, the existence of which he feels threatens his brick-and-mortar business. And given the tens of millions he spent in 2012, GOP presidential contenders will be hard put to ignore him.
So will those pressures help turn every GOP presidential contender against Internet poker? We'll see.