The GOP debates have become like Super Bowl parties for top donors

Top party donors jammed into the ballroom of an upscale hotel in the city’s historic downtown, milling around a long buffet table piled with pulled pork sandwiches, baby shrimp, macaroni and cheese, and ice cream sundaes. They buzzed about the sharp jousting between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, caught up on campaign gossip and made plans to see one another at one of the upcoming forums in Iowa, New Hampshire or Florida.

The outsize spectacle of this primary season’s Republican debates has made the events hot-ticket items for wealthy donors, who are flocking to them as if they were political bowl games.

“It’s like Old Home Week,” said Ray Washburne, the national finance chair for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign, who has been to all six GOP primary debates held so far. “Even though we’re all on different sides, it’s fun to meet up.”

Major fundraisers and top contributors fly in on private jets and gather in hotel suites before start time, marveling over the latest twists in the race. Once inside the venue, they snap selfies in front of the stage. They anxiously root for their favored candidates, swapping text messages with friends as the jabs fly back and forth.