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Gov. Scott Walker appears to have some key allies in the race for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination: influential conservative political donors Charles and David Koch.

David Koch told donors at a fundraiser in Manhattan on Monday that he and his brother believe Walker will be the Republican nominee, The New York Times reported.

“When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination,” the brothers will support him, David Koch told the crowd, a Koch spokesman said.

Two sources who attended the event said they heard Koch say that Walker should be the Republican nominee. A Koch spokeswoman disputed that wording, saying David Koch has pledged to remain officially neutral during the primary campaign.

The comments come as Walker is laying the groundwork for a presidential bid, though he has yet to formally make an announcement. The Koch brothers said earlier this year they plan to spend $900 million to support conservative candidates and causes, though it’s unclear how much, if any, they plan to spend on the presidential primary.

The Times wrote that Koch’s comments “could effectively end one of the most closely watched contests in the ‘invisible primary,’” or candidates’ efforts to seek the support of some of the most wealthy conservative donors. Walker also has courted billionaire casino magnate and GOP donor Sheldon Adelson.

Walker spoke to members of the GOP’s “Empire Club,” who pay $1,000 annually to attend such gatherings, the New York Daily News reported.

AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for Walker’s political nonprofit Our American Revival, said the organization and Walker would not comment.

During the 2011 protests at the state Capitol over Walker’s collective bargaining proposal, Walker famously fielded a call from a blogger who said he was David Koch. Walker acknowledged to the caller he “thought about” planting troublemakers among protesters and discussed confidential strategies for pushing the law through.

Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said the Kochs are signaling their support for a candidate who is not Jeb Bush. The Florida governor is raising hundreds of millions of dollars but also drawing “surprisingly lots of resistance” among conservatives more supportive of non-establishment candidates.

“That opens the door to another candidate, if they can manage to raise enough money to truly compete,” he said, “And the Kochs could be one key to that, but we don’t know and that’s all you can say right now.”

The Kochs “may be residually positive on Walker because of the (2012) recall election,” Sabato added. “That became an emotional commitment for a lot of senior political donors, and Kochs were prominent among them.”

Walker was in New Hampshire for a GOP leadership summit over the weekend, his second visit to the Granite State this year. He will be in Iowa this weekend to speak at two events on Friday and Saturday.

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