Republican mega-donor Adelson met with Haley in Las Vegas -sources

FILE PHOTO: Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Summit in Las Vegas

By Alexandra Ulmer

(Reuters) -Casino billionaire and mega Republican donor Miriam Adelson met in Las Vegas with 2024 presidential candidate Nikki Haley, who has been rising in the polls in key states, over the weekend, two sources briefed on the meeting said.

The previously unreported meeting during a gathering of Republican Jewish donors is likely a positive sign for Haley given Adelson's status as one of the pre-eminent Republican donors.

Israeli-born Adelson also met with former president Donald Trump in Las Vegas over the weekend, with The Messenger reporting they had dinner together. She and her late husband Sheldon Adelson were major Trump supporters in 2016 and 2020.

Haley has tied with or surpassed rival Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in several recent state polls as the two vie to become the top alternative to Trump, who remains the runaway frontrunner to clinch the nomination as the party's 2024 presidential candidate.

According to some media reports, Adelson plans to stay neutral in the Republican nominating contest, which kicks off Jan. 15 in the midwestern state of Iowa, but will likely put money behind the party's nominee to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden.

It was not immediately clear what other presidential candidates, if any, Adelson met.

When asked whether DeSantis had also met Adelson in Las Vegas, a spokesperson for the campaign said DeSantis and Adelson have been "friends" for a long time and that "nothing has changed," adding that "we respect her continued commitment to stay neutral during the primary."

Haley's team declined to comment. A spokesperson for Adelson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Haley has been gaining traction as a Trump alternative among Republican donors thanks to strong debate performances and a longtime pro-Israel stance. Haley, a former ambassador to the United Nations, raised around $8.2 million between July and September, a significant haul.

However, many big benefactors remain reticent to write checks when Trump is so far ahead and several contenders are splitting the anti-Trump vote, donors and sources close to donors say. Even if the pack were to winnow down, Trump has a formidable lead in state polls, at times over 50%.

Forbes ranks Adelson and her family as the 40th richest in the world with wealth of around $31.7 billion.

She and Sheldon Adelson gave the most - over $218 million - to Republican and conservative causes in the 2020 U.S. election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political spending.

The Adelsons are known for their philanthropy and business ventures in Israel and donations to Jewish causes. Sheldon Adelson, who died in 2021, headed the casino company Las Vegas Sands Corp.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer, editing by Ross Colvin, Rod Nickel and Lincoln Feast.)