Donors to the Koch brothers' right-of-center political network prefer Florida Sen. Marco Rubio for president, according to a straw poll taken at the network's just-concluded donor conference in California.
Rubio finished ahead of four other potential Republican candidates who were invited to the three-day meeting which ended Tuesday, after a long weekend of events at the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, California. Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul came in last.
The informal poll, conducted by veteran GOP pollster Frank Luntz, provides an early glimpse into the pool of "megadonors" being courted by prospective White House candidates. Their checkbooks "could go a long way toward determining who emerges with the GOP nomination — regardless of whether the Koch network decides to formally back a candidate," Politico reported
The conference was organized by Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce
, a nonprofit group which oversees Charles and David Koch's political and policy network.
Thus far, the network has avoided endorsing candidates in primaries, but it "is coming under internal and external pressures to do so," Politico said.
It hopes to raise $889 million from wealthy conservative- and libertarian-leaning donors like those who met in California — more than double the amount it spent during the 2012 election cycle.
In 2014, the network spent about $290 million and was widely credited with helping defeat some vulnerable Democrat senators.
Rubio's reported victory in the poll followed a Sunday night "American Recovery Policy Forum" held at the Rancho Mirage event. More than 400 donors heard Rubio, Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz offer their positions on the economy and hot-button foreign policy issues like Iran and Cuba.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker visited the event, but did not take part in the forum, Politico reported.
While all three senators voiced strong criticism of President Barack Obama's handling of the economy, strong differences emerged on foreign policy. Paul supported normalizing relations with Cuba and, like Obama, criticized sanctions on Iran, while Rubio and Cruz assailed what they described as the president's weak approach to both countries and their leaders.
Both Politico and The Hill lavished praise on Rubio's performance
, with The Hill commenting that the Florida senator's performance "may have done the most to boost his presidential chances."
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