In a major sign of his White House ambitions, Sen. Marco Rubio kicked off an election-strategy powwow Friday at the Delano Hotel by announcing a fundraising team that looked like a presidential campaign-in-waiting.
“Prepare for a presidential campaign,” Rubio recently told aides in the run up to the weekend.
That doesn’t mean Rubio is definitely running for the White House, but it’s the strongest indication yet.
The “Team Marco 2016” South Beach summit, followed by a grueling week-long California fundraising marathon, serves a dual purpose: pour money into Rubio’s U.S. Senate re-election campaign and decide whether to instead roll over that cash into a presidential campaign in the future. The two-day South Beach event is expected to draw as many as 300 supporters.
The fundraisers for “Team Marco 2016” do not look like typical financiers for a Florida Senate campaign because they all hail from other states and have ties to the four prior campaigns of the Republican Party’s presidential nominees. The new finance director for Rubio’s Reclaim America political action committee, Anna Rogers, held the same position for the American Crossroads Super PAC founded by GOP strategist Karl Rove. It spent about $200 million over the last two elections supporting Republicans.
Rubio’s friends and advisers say he hasn’t made up his mind yet, but they say he’s more seriously exploring the possibility of a White House run.
“I haven’t asked him if he’s running, but he’s certainly building an impressive team of national players,” said Nelson Diaz, chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party.
“I’ve known Sen. Rubio for 20 years,” Diaz said. “He doesn’t make impulsive decisions but really takes his time to think things through and running for President is a big and personal decision.”
One Rubio aide said the senator recently dropped a big hint by telling them to get ready as if he’s running for president.
Also, Rubio recently announced that his wife, Jeanette, is okay with a presidential bid — an important step for Rubio, who has privately expressed regrets about the stress that the two-year campaign would put on her and his four young children.
Should Rubio run for president, aides say, he could count on these fundraisers to help out:
▪ George Seay III: the Texas finance chair of former Gov. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign. A co-founder and CEO of Annandale Capital, he’s the grandson of former Texas Governor Bill Clements.
▪ Wayne Berman: a top advisor to the Blackstone Group and Republican Jewish Coalition. The New York resident has held a variety of posts and transition team spots affiliated with eight GOP presidential campaigns, from Ronald Reagan in 1981 to George W. Bush in 2000.
▪ Jim Rubrich: an Atlanta resident and former CEO of a paper and packaging company called RockTenn. He served on Georgia state leadership committees for George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns.
If Rubio runs, it puts him on an awkward collision course with former Gov. Jeb Bush, his close friend and neighbor. Rubio, a West Miami resident, lives a five-minute drive from Bush’s Coral Gables home.
For a time, Bush’s bid appeared less likely than Rubio’s. But Bush in December announced the formation of his own political committees, both named “Right to Rise.” And Bush aides this week announced he would try to have 60 fundraisers around the country.
This Sunday, Rubio joins Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul to attend the “American Recovery Policy Forum” event hosted by the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce in Palm Springs. Affiliated with billionaire’s Charles and David Koch, the event has been nicknamed the “Koch primary” for Republicans.
Next week in California, Rubio has at least five fundraisers lined up in Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, La Jolla and Beverly Hills on consecutive days. Before this weekend’s Miami Beach fundraiser, Rubio raised money and made appearances in New York, South Carolina and Alabama. He’s then heading to the primary’s early vote states, where he’ll promote his new book “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity For Everyone.”
Rubio, like Bush, is skipping an event this weekend in early vote Iowa hosted by that state’s Republican congressman Steve King, an immigration hardliner who’s critical of the reforms supported by the two Florida Republicans.
“Both Jeb and Rubio don’t need to go to this. No one will remember this in a few weeks,” said Ed Rollins, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan and, in 2008, presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, who might run again in 2016.
“Both Jeb and Rubio are well-served by skipping this and doing what they’re doing now: raising money and building an organization,” Rollins said.