GOP donors see Rubio as Senate savior

GOP donors see Rubio as Senate savior
© Greg Nash

Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioPessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire McConnell: Wearing a mask is 'single most significant thing' to fight pandemic McConnell goes hands-off on coronavirus relief bill MORE’s 11th-hour entry into the Florida Senate race has energized GOP fundraisers who worry that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says his faith is 'bedrock foundation of my life' after Trump claim Coronavirus talks on life support as parties dig in, pass blame Ohio governor tests negative in second coronavirus test MORE is putting the party's Senate control in jeopardy. 

The network of donors led by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which has an expected budget of $750 million, roughly a third of which is expected to be used on political and policy spending during the 2016 cycle, is already rallying forcefully behind Rubio.

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“We support Sen. Marco Rubio's reelection bid,” said James Davis, a spokesman for the Koch network, the most powerful and well-funded donor group in conservative politics. 

“Sen. Rubio has been a strong leader in the Senate on a number of issues, including fighting against the [Export-Import] Bank and opposing wasteful spending increases.” 

Top Republican donors and outside groups told The Hill that Rubio’s decision has the potential to radically alter the fundraising landscape not only in Florida, but across the country. 

“I think [Rubio’s decision] will open up fundraising not just in Florida but in many cases nationwide,” said Marc Short, a Republican consultant who left the Koch network during the primary season to support Rubio’s presidential campaign. 

“I think there’s a lot of national conservative donors who are not enthused by the current landscape, so this will re-energize them.”

The Rubio announcement is the first good news the Republican donor community has received in months.

Privately, GOP fundraisers have begun talking in apocalyptic tones about Trump’s campaign, fearing a catastrophic implosion that could affect candidates down the ticket.

As a result, donors have shied away from giving to Trump Victory — the joint fundraising committee between Trump and the Republican National Committee — and Trump's presidential campaign reported having just $1.3 million cash on hand at the end of May.

Rubio could be a magnet for donors who don’t like Trump, and he’s signaling that he’ll be working not only to win reelection, but to keep the Senate in Republican hands.

The Senate Leadership Fund, one of the top super-PACs helping Republicans in Senate races this year, is now set to accelerate its Florida spending.

“Marco’s entry into the Florida Senate race is not just a game changer in Florida; it’s a game changer for Republicans’ ability to hold the Senate,” said Ian Prior, the group’s communications director.

“This will be one of our largest financial commitments this cycle.”

The Senate Leadership Fund’s president, Steven Law, foreshadowed the significance of Rubio’s decision for the group’s spending commitments in a statement last month to The Associated Press.

“Florida is a huge financial commitment,” Law said then. “We felt confident about betting on Rubio back in 2010 and would do it again in a heartbeat, but right now it's hard to imagine making that same investment without him as our candidate.”

The finance chair of the Republican Governors Association, Fred Malek, said Rubio would bring back into the fold a number of GOP donors who “may not otherwise have come forward” due to their concerns about Trump. 

“There will be more money coming into the Senate races and more money to disperse elsewhere,” Malek said.

Other influential conservative groups are touting Rubio’s entry as a boost to their efforts and fundraising.

Mallory Quigley, communications director for the anti-abortion rights group Susan B. Anthony List said, “We are expecting [Rubio’s entry into the race] to mobilize donors, mobilize activists and give this field team a spring in its step.” 

SBA List has already knocked 200,000 doors in Florida this cycle, and Rubio will “dovetail nicely” with the group’s strategy of not just turning out the base but courting “persuadable” Democrats and Hispanics, Quigley added. 

Doug Sachtleben, the communications director for the big-spending free market group Club for Growth, said Rubio’s entry into the race means that “there's now a clear path for donors.” 

“Many had been waiting to donate to see how the race would shape up. Now, they're likely to be all in.”

Florida is a hugely expensive media market and was already set to be a high-spending race. But now that spending could reach new heights. 

Rubio has leapfrogged his likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Fla.), by 7 points in a recent Quinnipiac poll, but Democrats insist they’re prepared to spend whatever it takes to defeat Rubio. 

“Marco Rubio has disqualified himself by failing to show up and do his job,” said Lauren Passalacqua, national press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). 

“Setting aside the fact that he’s using a national tragedy to relaunch his political career, he’s got a long, hurtful record — from gun safety to equality to women’s health — that will further inspire Democrats to ensure Patrick Murphy is elected this November."

Passalacqua said the DSCC had already reserved $10 million for TV ads in Florida this fall, before Rubio entered the race. 

Murphy will also have plenty of his own money, having already raised nearly $8 million this cycle, and he’s got wealthy donors rallying around him, including his father, Thomas.

"Marco's gonna have more trouble than he thinks," said John Morgan, a real estate entrepreneur and influential Florida Democratic donor who is supporting Murphy. 

"He's motivating Democrats more than ever before. ... I'm very motivated, and by the way, Patrick Murphy is a lot more telegenic and charismatic than Little Marco."  

Rubio’s entry into the race could have larger implications for the GOP. With Rubio in the race, scarce party resources can now be funneled into races where vulnerable candidates can’t command a similar national donor network.

“With Rubio able to raise money, I think at a very large amount and a rapid clip, it frees some of the resources up for some of the other competitive races like Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and so forth,” Malek said.

Between his campaign committee and outside groups, Rubio and his allies raised more than $113 million to support his presidential bid, according to the non-partisan watchdog OpenSecrets. Many of these megadonors can be tapped again.

Jeff Sadosky, who ran communications for Rubio’s main presidential super-PAC, said, “Not only is he one of the most dynamic candidates and fundraisers, but he’s also spent the better part of the last three years building a network of top-tier donors and activists that will rally around him.

“I’m sure the folks at the NRSC are looking forward to getting him out there to raise money.”

Updated at 7:30 p.m.