Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was once seen as the obvious winner of the Republican presidential fund-raising game before even declaring a White House run, is now facing serious money challenges, top donors say.
"Everyone has looked at Jeb’s fundraising strategy of 'shock and awe' as him 'going on offense,'" a top Bush fundraiser told Politico.
"The reality is: it’s defense. He’s going to have all of these other Republicans, each with their own super PAC funded by their own billionaire, coming after him.
"He’s going to have to withstand what could be a $50 million onslaught," the fundraiser said.
Another Bush donor said: "These folks may have — altogether — somewhere in the neighborhood of $50-70 million in the primary, and we may see them come to a collective decision to try to take Jeb out.
"Democrats, if there’s an opportunity, may throw some money on top of all that to help," the supporter told Politico. The donors talked to Politico on the condition of anonymity.
Bush, 62, who announced in January that he was considering a run for the GOP nomination, has been eclipsed in the money game so far by two declared candidates, Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida, and by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another likely contender, Politico reports.
New York hedge fund entrepreneur Robert Mercer has pledged more than $15 million to Cruz, while Rubio has picked up the support of Miami billionaire Norman Braman and is the strong favorite with Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, Politico reports.
As for Walker, billionaire industrialist David Koch hinted at his support for the governor this past week.
"With Mercer, Adelson, Braman, the Kochs, and talk radio and the blogs, it’s like 'Game of Thrones' out there," another longtime Bush donor told Politico.
Bush this weekend will host top donors at a Miami resort — and one donor told Politico that the former governor may well need to raise $100 million "as a matter of survival."
The two-day gathering at the 1 Hotel in South Beach begins on Sunday.
"It’s a reward for bundlers," a Bush supporter who is not attending told Politico. He was referring to those who have raised $50,000. That is the highest amount for donors who have already brought in $500,000 for Bush’s Right to Rise PAC.
"They get to hear about the campaign and take pictures with Jeb," the donor said. "I’d guess a majority of the real high-end bundlers aren’t even going because it’s not that exciting to them."
However, Bush needs to keep up relationships with some donors and keep others from bolting to other candidates, a Florida-based supporter told Politico.
"It’s constructive to keep people close, to have Jeb talk to them and make sure they feel listened to and appreciated," the donor said. "But there are some people down here who’ve been rubbed the wrong way by the fundraising team’s imperial demands."
Those include pressuring donors to support Bush now, so early in the 2016 sweepstakes.
"They’re trying to hustle everyone to get on the train now," another Bush donor told Politico. "There’s some pressure — 'you’re with us or you’re against us' — that is the result of a more competitive field."
That Bush has not officially declared his White House intentions remains an issue, too, according to the report. Not doing so allows the former governor to bypass campaign finance rules — raising unlimited dollars for his super PAC.
"There’s a worry that this is setting them up for a number of legal challenges," another Florida donor told Politico. "There’s some freedom allowed by this, but there’s also a lot of arrogance because, even if they think they’re on firm legal ground, we all know the intent of the law is not to have presidential campaigns being run out of a super PAC.
"It’s untested, it’s risky," the donor said. "There’s that chance that it blows up, that some unforeseen legal challenge actually sticks.
"And the optics are horrible," the donor added. "If he wins the nomination this way, Democrats will seize on the tactics as evidence that Jeb Bush thinks he can play by his own rules.
"It’s the same playbook we’re trying to run against Hillary, which would be out the window."
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