By Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Lawrence Delevingne
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Top fundraisers for Donald Trump on Wednesday were making pitches to prominent hedge fund investors to line up behind the presumptive Republican presidential nominee as he seeks to raise $1 billion for the general election campaign.
The New York billionaire businessman was a topic of discussion as some 2,000 hedge fund managers, investors, lawyers and journalists gathered in Las Vegas for SALT, the hedge fund industry's most prominent annual meeting.
When David Rubenstein, the co-founder of private equity powerhouse Carlyle Group, kicked off the three-day conference by asking the audience which candidate they thought would move into the White House in January after November's election, the vast majority did not express an opinion.
Rubenstein joked the winner would likely be 69 years old, come from New York and be blond, listing things that fit both Trump and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, who turns 69 in October.
Away from panel discussions on how the industry can salvage a poor start to the year - the average hedge fund is off 0.8 percent this year, according to eVestment - powerful Trump backers were working smaller venues around the Hotel Bellagio.
Anthony Scaramucci, who hosts the conference and runs investment firm Skybridge Capital, said he was reaching out to his contacts to convince them Trump would run his candidacy like an entrepreneur, something he said America needed.
Trump's new national finance chairman, Steven Mnuchin, was also traveling to Las Vegas to meet with supporters and potential donors. Mnuchin heads hedge fund Dune Capital and established himself on Wall Street at Goldman Sachs.
"You have an opportunity now to bring an entrepreneur and a team of advisers that are entrepreneurial, out-of-the-box thinkers into Washington," Scaramucci told Reuters. "That's the sell to potential donors."
Scaramucci has long been a powerful Republican fundraiser who originally backed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker in this year's race and later Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor. He said there would be the Trump "Entrepreneurial Avenue" versus the "Clinton cul-de sac."
"Candidate Trump has said some things that some business people think: 'Jeez, if I'm associated with some of those things, it could be perceived negatively for my business.' I think that will wash away in the next two months," Scaramucci said.
Trump is the last man standing in the Republican race after U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Ohio Governor John Kasich dropped out last week. Trump, who has never held elective office, is trying to unite Republicans behind his candidacy after a primary election campaign in which his fiery rhetoric on trade, immigration and Muslims rankled party elites.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday showed Trump had pulled even with Clinton, his likely opponent in the Nov. 8 presidential election.
Among big-name Trump backers at the conference were T. Boone Pickens, an oil investor and hedge fund manager who previously supported Bush's candidacy.
"Yes, I'm for Donald Trump," he said, adding Trump was smart enough to get himself help where he needed it politically and that it would be refreshing to have a businessman instead of a politician in the White House.
"Donald almost always overestimates how successful he is, but nonetheless he has been out there and he does know something about what he is talking about."
(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss and Lawrence Delevingne; Editing by Peter Cooney)