The least known but one of the most eagerly courted, screening committees for the next G.O.P. presidential nominee met recently in Colorado Springs, Colo., amid the panoramic opulence of the Broadmoor Hotel and Resort. The four-day meeting of affluent Evangelicals was billed as a "summer family retreat," and the kids rode ponies and played water sports while their folks chewed over immigration and gay marriage. The political group, called Legacy, aims for mystique: it has received no media attention and is unknown even on the Web. Yet all the marquee '08 Republican candidates have spoken to Legacy or met with its founders, having come to regard the group as a prime audience in these early days of raising money and trying to conjure momentum. "If you're running for President," said a close associate of President George W. Bush's, "it is the place to go." One of the group's first projects: supplying cash and ground troops to help South Dakota's John Thune beat Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle in 2004. Thune, a presidential prospect, electrified the Broadmoor audience, which also heard from Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn of Texas.
Legacy was started by two Dallas businessmen: Ray Washburne, a real estate and Tex-Mex-restaurant baron, and George Seay III, founder of the Seay Stewardship & Investment Co. and grandson of former Texas Governor Bill Clements. Its members are mostly young--in their 30s and 40s--and wealthy, through entrepreneurship, inheritance or both. They are Christians concerned with social justice, in the mold of Rick Warren of Purpose Driven Life fame, and practice their faith without, as a Broadmoor attendee put it, "quoting Leviticus"--a reference to the harder-edged rhetoric at other gatherings of social conservatives.
Organizers declined to be interviewed, saying they want to continue working below the radar. Cornyn tells TIME that the founders "have been beneficiaries of the political activity of their parents, and want to step up now that they're the next generation in line." Legacy, he says, fills "a vacuum between national organizations and political activists who are grandparents."
Speakers at the retreat in late July, which drew 165 families, included Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, and an immigration panel featured tax-cut leader Grover Norquist and Hugh Hewitt, a conservative radio host and blogger. Reflecting Legacy's aim for social impact, Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission talked about heading the U.N. genocide investigation in Rwanda. Audience members rose to describe a trip they had taken there. The weekend ended in the Cheyenne Lodge with a family worship service led by Mark Brewer of California's Bel Air Presbyterian Church. He was Ronald Reagan's last pastor, now ministering to a group hungry to amplify Reagan's spirit.