SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. — They never got close, and Mitt Romney may not have even seen them, but protesters — some from Occupy Wall Street — took political theater to a new level Sunday outside the beachfront estate of billionaire David H. Koch, where the Republican candidate was raising money.
Some of the 200 protesters marched down mile-long Coopers Beach toward the home in a cloud of sand, bearing banners and signs: "Your $50,000 ticket equals my child's education," "end corporate personhood" and "don't forget to tip the help."
Kean University professor Stuart Leonard led an advance party to the beach in front of the Koch estate — only the rooftop and tip of a tent were visible from the sand — and the protesters posed with a flag in the style of the Marines at Iwo Jima.
The figurative clash between rich and less-so came as Romney spent a highly profitable day in the Hamptons, divided into three fundraisers of the sort that has propelled a lucrative money-making operation for the unofficial presidential nominee. All three events, which raised an estimated $3 million, were closed to reporters.
The day began in East Hampton at "The Creeks," the estate of Revlon Inc.Chairman Ronald Perelman, where supporters were asked to contribute or raise $25,000 a person for a VIP photo reception. Also present was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Romney then traveled to a midafternoon event in Southampton hosted by Clifford Sobel, who served as ambassador to Brazil under PresidentGeorge W. Bush.
The final event, and the focus of the protesters, was the evening fundraiser at the estate of Julia and David Koch on Meadow Lane in Southampton. The suggested contribution was $75,000 a couple — with funds going to Romney's campaign, the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Koch party drew protests not only because of Romney but because of the host — one of a pair of billionaire brothers who have come to dominate conservative fundraising.
The Coast Guard patrolled the waters offshore, the Secret Service guarded the walkway to the Koch estate, and New York state troopers lined the dunes in their tall hats, warning protesters to get back. They were met with chants of "Shame on you" and "We got sold out, banks got bailed out."
Earlier, the scene on the tony stretch of Long Island oozed wealth, but not universal praise about the state of Romney's campaign.
A line of Range Rovers, BMWs, Porsche roadsters and one gleaming, cherry red Ferrari began queuing outside Perelman's estate long before Romney arrived, as campaign aides and staffers in white polo shirts emblazoned with the logo of Perelman's property checked off names under tight security.
Some of those waiting in line were eager to give the candidate some advice about the next four months of what is, at present, a tight presidential race.
A money manager in a green Jeep said it was time for Romney to "up his game and be more reactive." So far, said the donor, who declined to give his name because he said it would hurt his business, Romney has had a "very timid offense."
A New York City donor a few cars back, who would not give her name for similar reasons, said Romney needed to do a better job connecting. "I don't think the common person is getting it," she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. "Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.
"We've got the message," she added. "But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who's got the right to vote — they don't understand what's going on. I just think if you're lower income — one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how it works, they don't understand how the systems work, they don't understand the impact."
Physician Adam Rosenbluth paused on his way into the Perelman fundraiser to suggest that Romney was appealing in person, if less effective getting his message out otherwise.
"I think sometimes he seems a little plastic," said Rosenbluth, who said Romney was on the right track by meeting more often with individual voters and donors. "His looks are almost Ken doll. And people are like, 'Is he made like a Ken doll? — is there something in there?' "
Among Perelman's guests were the Zambrellis of New York City, independent voters who attended a fundraiser for Obama four years ago. Sharon Zambrelli voted for Obama in 2008, but has been disappointed with his handling of the economy and leadership style.
"I was very disenchanted with the political process, and he gave me hope," she said. But ultimately, "He's just a politician," an "emperor with no clothes."
The Zambrellis scoffed at what they said were attempts by the Democrats to wage class warfare. "Would you like to hear about the fundraisers I went to for him?" Sharon Zambrelli said of Obama. "Do you have an hour? ... All the ones in the city — it was all of Wall Street."
"It's not helping the economy to pit the people who are the engine of the economy against the people who rely on that engine," Michael Zambrelli said as the couple waited in their SUV for clearance into the pine-tree-lined estate. "He's basically been biting the hand that fed him in '08.... I would bet 25% of the people here were supporters of Obama in '08. And they're here now."
Protesters were at the Perelman home too. Two men were arrested after police said they tried to sail across a lake abutting the property and struck a police vessel with their boat. One was arrested after trying to flee by swimming to shore; the other was apprehended on his boat, authorities said.
As traffic snarled along Montauk Highway in both directions, a Ron Paul supporter who said his name was Jim continually circled in a pickup that bore large signs touting the Romney challenger.
"I've gotten a few thumbs up," he said when asked whether his presence was having any effect. "He's the man."