The story of Jeb Bush versus Marco Rubio in the Sunshine State, new presidential campaign finance reports show, is a tale of two cities.
First, look to Tallahassee to see which 2016 candidate the GOP establishment favors:
Former Gov. Bush, whose onetime aides, advisers and operatives dominate the lobbying corps centered in the Florida capital, outraised former House Speaker Rubio by 15-to-1, more than $198,000 to nearly $13,000, according to an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times.
Then look to Miami, where both candidates reside, to see how formidable a rival Rubio is to Bush:
Rubio raised $512,000 in Miami-Dade, the county where both men launched their presidential campaigns, nearly as much as Bush’s $557,000.
The reports detail donations to the actual campaign, which are capped at $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general election. There again, Bush’s support from GOP elites is more apparent than his support from rank-and-file Republicans, who tend to make smaller donations.
“Marco’s done a great job over the last few years staying in touch with the base, and it’s paying off in small-dollar donations,” said Republican consultant John Wehrung.
Overall for the first fundraising period, Rubio reported $8.9 million plus $3.2 million transferred from his U.S. Senate re-election campaign. (He had to refund about $821,000 to Senate donors.) Bush reported $11.4 million.
Bush raised an additional $103 million through a Super PAC run by one of his longtime advisers. Two outside groups affiliated with Rubio pulled in $32 million, giving him the resources to run an extended campaign even if he does not perform well in Iowa, which holds the first nominating caucuses early next year, or New Hampshire, which follows with the first primary.
The committees, ostensibly removed from the candidates they’re helping, do not have to adhere to contribution limits; a wealthy donor can simply stroke a $1 million check, or more, as is the case with Rubio benefactor Norman Braman, a Miami billionaire.
Details on the outside groups’ fundraising won’t be public until the end of the month.
A closer look
To more accurately compare the two candidates on home-state performance, the Times removed contributions Rubio transferred from his Senate re-election committee, collected before he was an official presidential candidate. The analysis also doesn’t account for “un-itemized” small contributors, who are not listed by name or address. Rubio’s reports don’t say how much of his un-itemized money was transferred and how much was given directly to the presidential campaign.
For Bush, the analysis stripped out $388,000 of his own money spent on “testing the waters” activity before he became an official candidate.
Florida came through big for both, accounting for 26 percent of the money Rubio raised through June 30 and 23 percent of what Bush collected, the Times analysis shows.
Bush is the most formidable fundraiser in the Republican field, and he is just getting started. The former governor raised almost $1 million more than Rubio, who launched his campaign two months earlier than Bush did on June 15.
In the Tampa Bay political battleground counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando, Bush raised five times as much as Rubio, $315,000 versus $63,000.
Bush, who returns to Tallahassee on Monday for a speech about reforming government, pulled in on average nearly $200,000 a day from Floridians, vastly more than Rubio did in far more time.
But Rubio has withstood widespread early doubts that he could not compete financially or otherwise with Bush, 62, who aided Rubio’s rise in state politics. Rubio, 44 and the son of Cuban immigrants, is running on his biography and positioning himself as a next-generation leader. Though he’s below Bush in early polls, Rubio remains a top candidate.
“I was surprised that Sen. Rubio’s Florida fundraising numbers were as close to Gov. Bush’s numbers as they were,” said Screven Watson, a Democratic consultant in Tallahassee. “I guess I attribute that to the fact he is a sitting United States senator.”
“Still, Jeb was an extremely popular and incredibly connected two-term Florida Republican governor versus Marco, who really didn’t have a credible statewide financial network established until the Senate race in 2010,” Watson added. “The question for me is, can Sen. Rubio sustain it? I believe Gov. Bush can and will.”
Rubio’s team is trying to emphasize a conservative approach, noting he has more cash on hand than any other Republican candidate (again, he had a two-month head start on Bush and it does not include money raised by outside groups).
In a new fundraising appeal on Friday, Rubio’s campaign boasted that it had no debt and had spent relatively little of its money. The campaign also has worked to line up TV advertising time early, before rates skyrocket.
“No debt — no waste — lean — efficient — effective. That’s the campaign we are running,” the fundraising email read, with a link for people to give more. “That’s the way Marco will run the federal government. Click here now and help him do it.”
Bush and Rubio did not have Florida’s checkbooks all to themselves.
Democrat Hillary Clinton raised nearly $3 million in Florida, and with Bush and Rubio dividing GOP donors, she overwhelmingly outraised them in Miami-Dade by pulling in $944,000. In Tampa Bay, where she has yet to attend a fundraiser, she received $272,000.
After Bush and Rubio, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz raised the most from Florida, with $317,000, followed by surgeon Ben Carson of West Palm Beach with $219,000, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul with $191,000, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, now of Santa Rosa Beach in the Panhandle, with $104,000.
With Florida holding its primary March 15, it’s entirely likely that Bush and Rubio could be forced to face off, a battle that would dominate national news coverage. It would test Bush’s appeal among regular voters, whom he has not faced since 2002.
The latest fundraising reports suggest Rubio, for now, may enjoy more enthusiasm among the grass-roots voters. Nationally, a mere 3 percent of Bush’s money came from people who gave $200 or less. For Rubio, it was 27 percent.
The Rubio campaign counts more than 12,000 Florida donors since he launched in April — more in his home state than the 9,900 Bush touts having nationwide.
Small-dollar donors can be particularly important to a campaign because the candidate can go back to that donor for more money later in a campaign, but not to donors who have already maxxed out.
Nobody doubts Bush will have the resources to be among the last viable candidates in the race.
“This race is a marathon, not a sprint,” Wehrung said. “And although it takes more time, I think Jeb’s stronger organizational efforts — in Florida and around the country — should pay off for him in the long run with more key endorsements and hard money donations from the GOP base.”
Bush is relying heavily on his family’s legendary donor network. About 150 major “bundlers” for George W. Bush have given to his brother, among them at least 20 Floridians. What’s more, Bush took in more donations from Goldman Sachs employees than any other employer, emphasizing his reach among the elite.
Bush in an interview Thursday noted the short window between when he launched the campaign and the end of the fundraising quarter.
“We had 16 days and we wanted to send a statement of seriousness about the campaign,” he said. “We’ll have ample time to broaden that out and that’s the intention.”
Times director of data Adam Playford contributed to this report. Contact Adam C. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @adamsmithtimes. Contact Alex Leary at email@example.com. Follow @learyreports. Contact Eli Murray firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @eli_mur.
Total Florida fundraising
Hillary Clinton: $2,954,797.61
Jeb Bush: $2,590,015.95
Marco Rubio: $1,752,815.71
Total raised in Florida by major presidential campaigns: $9,013,113.72.
Total raised U.S.: $105,697,861.08, which means Florida is worth 8.5% of all contributions