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Jeb donors shattered by failed campaign

Greg Nash

Jeb Bush’s K Street supporters are reeling from the sudden end of his presidential campaign.

After pouring donations into the coffers of the former Florida governor’s campaign and super-PAC, many of the lobbyists who worked to put Bush in the White House are feeling shell shocked.

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Of the two-dozen Bush-aligned lobbyists contacted by The Hill, almost half said they plan to take a break from presidential politics.

“I feel like I need to take a breather and watch from the sidelines over the next couple of weeks before diving back in,” said Kimberley Fritts, CEO of the Podesta Group, when asked whom she would be supporting next. Fritts had previously worked on Bush’s gubernatorial campaign.

Al Cardenas, a senior partner Squire Patton Boggs and Bush campaign advisor, emailed: “Jeb is a close personal friend, not just a political ally. His loss has deeply saddened me. I have avoided all incoming. Will sit this out for a bit.”

“I’m in mourning,” said a Bush bundler who asked to remain anonymous.

Bush’s campaign enjoyed robust support from lobbyists and consultants in Washington, with many in the Republican Party having a long history with Jeb Bush and his presidential father and brother.

Now that Bush is out of the race, rival campaigns are seeking to secure the supporters and donors he is leaving behind. But not every Bush supporter is ready to move on.

“They’re going to take some time. It’s like losing a member of the family,” the bundler said.

A few of the lobbyists who professed being undecided about where to go, however, saw themselves aligning with the campaign of Marco RubioMarco RubioRankings: Trump’s top 10 VP picks Rubio apologized to Trump for 'small hands' crack Sunday shows preview: Bernie soldiers on MORE — the candidate many now see as the only viable establishment alternative to Donald TrumpDonald TrumpLibertarian nominee: Trump’s rhetoric on immigrants ‘untrue’ Sanders supporters have a point McConnell: Trump ‘will not change the Republican Party’ MORE.

Ashley Davis, of West Front Strategies, told The Hill in an email she would be “taking a breather for a few days, but will probably go to Rubio.”

Indeed, many in the GOP are turning to Rubio in the wake of Trump’s victory on Saturday in South Carolina. The Florida senator on Monday raked in a slew of new congressional endorsements, many of them from former Bush backers.

Time is of the essence, some lobbyists say, because a highly divided race ultimately benefits Trump, who is leading in many of the upcoming primary states.

“What’s driving urgency to some extent is that today’s news that Trump is leading in 10 of the next 14 states. If that doesn’t change, it’s going to be all over,” said a D.C. bundler for Bush. “To change it, you’ve got to have more money than you had before.”

“My gut tells me that of those that reengage, the overwhelming majority are going to go to Marco,” the bundler added.

Rubio already had some K Street donors in his corner, including Blackstone’s Wayne Berman, Akin Gump’s Geoff Verhoff, Scott Weaver, who co-chairs the public policy practice at Wiley Rein, and Joe Wall, a vice president of government affairs for Goldman Sachs.

Those connected to Rubio have reportedly started making asks of former Bush contributors, another donor told The Hill.

“The Rubio folks in particular have been very smart in approaching Bush community. Firm touches but not pushy,” another Bush bundler, who is still considering who to support, told The Hill in an email. “Rubio touches are from personal friends. [John] Kasich people don’t seem to be as coordinated.”

A handful of lobbyists, though, have already made up their minds.

Former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), who heads trade group Incompas, says he’s putting his money on Rubio.

Another Bush-aligned K Street donor, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record, said he would be supporting Rubio.

Meanwhile, Tom Korologos, a strategic adviser at DLA Piper and ambassador to Belgium during the George W. Bush administration, has decided to back John Kasich.

The Bush campaign “started out with great vitality and great vigor, and all that money. It faded out and that’s a shame,” he said. “He would have been the candidate in another era, I suppose.”

“There are still viable candidates out there, like Rubio and Kasich. I think Kasich will be on the ticket no matter what,” Korologos said, and paused before adding, “Put me down for Kasich. I gave to Bush. ... If someone called me, I might donate to Kasich.”