The money race: Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio fight to woo same political donors

Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are stuck in the middle of the Republican primary pack — and fighting for money from the same political donor base
Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are stuck in the middle of the Republican primary pack — and fighting for money from the same political donor base

The question hung over Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio when the two friends became rivals seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination: Would there be enough room for both of them to stick out the race?

The underwhelming financial reports that the Rubio and Bush campaigns filed this week suggest the answer — dreaded by their mutual supporters — might be no.

The candidates aren’t struggling. Bush amassed more cash over the past three months than all but one of his GOP primary rivals. Rubio collected less than half of that but still has almost as much in the bank as Bush does. All the presidential campaigns had to file quarterly finance reports with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday.

Yet it was not enough. Neither candidate met the expectations of political donors, their key constituency at this point in the race.

Instead, the two campaigns started bickering over which one had more money left to spend. It was the kind of squabble that indicates a perceived threat from the other side — perhaps rooted in the realization that both candidates are trying to woo some of the same establishment contributors in a jammed Republican field.


Rubio’s campaign waited exactly six minutes after Bush’s revealed its fundraising totals Thursday — noting it doubled Rubio’s — to crow that Rubio had more money left to spend despite pulling in less of it.

“Thanks to smart budgeting and fiscal discipline, Marco Rubio for President started October with more money in the bank than Jeb Bush for President and most other campaigns,” the Rubio campaign said in a statement.

It’s true that Rubio had nearly $11 million cash on hand as of Sept. 30. Bush, who runs a far more expansive and expensive operation, had $10.3 million.

But a larger share of Rubio’s money is earmarked for a potential general election, should Rubio make it that far: $1.2 million, compared to Bush’s $270,000. That brings Rubio’s primary total to $9.7 million, after rounding, compared to Bush’s $10 million. (Bush also carries a $406,000 debt, compared to Rubio’s $76,000.)

“Lying about budgets,” Bush spokesman Tim Miller tweeted Friday. “Guess Marco picked up something in the Senate.”

It was a snapshot of the stepped-up criticism — public and private — between the two campaigns over the past few weeks, as Bush has slid down in polls and Rubio has edged up. Bush has stressed Rubio’s Senate absences and said Rubio, a former state House speaker, followed his lead in Tallahassee. Rubio has sharpened his stump-speech line that he won’t wait in line behind older, more experienced candidates.

None of it has been overtly nasty yet, at least not by South Florida standards.

“When you come from Miami-Dade politics … it’s a full-contact sport,” said Ralph Arza, a Rubio backer. “I don’t think anybody is being disrespectful. I don’t think anybody is questioning anybody’s integrity.”

Bush intended to raise such staggering sums that he would be unbeatable. His $13.4 million haul between July 1 and Sept. 30 was $2 million more than he raised the previous three months — but the former Florida governor had only been a candidate for a few weeks then, so his fundraising pace slowed dramatically. He was beaten by retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson of West Palm Beach, who boasted $20 million in quarterly contributions.

Between July 1 and Sept. 30, Jeb Bush raised $13.4 million and Marco Rubio $5.7 million.

Rubio sketched out a slow and steady rise helped by his solid debate performances. However, the U.S. senator pulled in $5.7 million — far less than the $12.9 million he attracted the previous quarter (which included $3.2 million transferred from his Senate account) and less than Carson, Bush, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina.

Billionaire real-estate mogul Donald Trump, the front-runner who said he would fund his own campaign, reported $3.9 million in “unsolicited” donations. He spent only $4.2 million last quarter — less than any top candidate — unburdened by the costs of paying fundraising consultants.

“I — for one — would be less than forthcoming if I said we predicted in June that a reality television star supporting Canadian-style single-payer health care and partial-birth abortion would be leading the Republican Primary,” Bush campaign manager Danny Diaz said in a statement. Team Rubio blamed its slow quarter on summer doldrums.

In Florida, where both men trail Trump and Carson, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Bush remains fundraising king. He collected $2.1 million in the state, followed by $1.8 million in California. Rubio’s most lucrative state was California (where he raised $754,000), followed by Florida ($684,000).

A Miami Herald analysis showed the two candidates drawing the most Florida cash from Miami-Dade, the state’s largest county where both men live: $694,000 for Bush and $200,000 for Rubio.

Both continue to attract donors who gave more than $200 each. Only $876,000 of Bush’s total came from small donations, about 7 percent. For Rubio, the figure was $1.2 million, or about 21 percent.

Compare that to Democratic contender Bernie Sanders: The independent Vermont senator received $20.2 million out of his total $26.2 million — a whopping 77 percent — from small donors, indicating strong grassroots support.

77% Democrat Bernie Sanders’ contributions last quarter from small donors who gave less than $200 each

Both leading Democrats bested Republicans overall, with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton raising $29.4 million last quarter.

On the spending side, Rubio’s camp touted its tight purse strings. Team Bush trumpeted 37 staffers and seven offices to organize voters in early caucus and primary states.

While Bush has paid for some of his own TV spots, it’s the “super” political action committee backing him, Right to Rise USA, that has paid for most of his advertising — about $13 million, with $40 million more planned through February.

The only ads that have aired so far supporting Rubio’s policies have come from Conservative Solutions Project, a political nonprofit that can keep secret the so-called “dark money” it raises from its donors. Rubio’s campaign has reserved millions of dollars in air time early next year and has not yet raised enough cash to pay for it all.

Still, both campaigns insist they’re in a good place and plan to ramp up fundraising this month. Their donors — the ones willing to speak on the record — also say they’re pleased.

“I would hope he would be doing even better, but I’m really happy where he is,” said Stephen Helfman, a municipal government attorney in Miami-Dade who has given to Rubio. “He’s got a great story, but more importantly, he’s got some unique, special quality: He is one of those people who I think really grasp what’s happening.”

Zachariah P. Zachariah, a Fort Lauderdale cardiologist who has held two Bush fundraisers so far, said he appreciates Bush’s methodical campaign.

“He is very disciplined,” he said. “Out of all the presidential candidates, he is the most grown-up person.

“He is going to do fine, at the end of the day.”