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Jeb Bush expected to come out on top in fundraising

Big question now is who will come in second

Washington CNN —  

The money race for second place is on.

With a June 30 fundraising deadline drawing near, speculation over how much money Republican presidential candidates will collect is reaching a fever pitch. It’s already clear that Jeb Bush will come out on top regardless of whether he hits or even surpasses the $100 million target many in the donor world set for the former Florida governor. The more interesting question, many donors and campaign operatives say, is who will come in second.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has an unusually broad donor list thanks to his highly publicized recall election and big dollar backers like Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has worked meticulously to make inroads with prominent GOP fundraisers who aren’t sold on Bush. And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has drawn in small dollar donors, as well as the support of a handful of super PACs. A leader of the super PACs backing Cruz expects those groups and the official campaign committee to raise a combined $50 million by the end of the week.

“When it comes to fundraising in a presidential race, it’s the expectation game,” said Craig Robinson, a GOP activist in Iowa and editor of The Iowa Republican website. “Every candidate has a different bar they’re going to have to clear.”

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The price tag to wage a competitive primary campaign is likely to come in well below $100 million. Republican fundraisers said if a candidate and allied groups can raise $10 million to $20 million by the end of the month, they will be viewed as credible rivals.

Anthony Scaramucci, the founder of SkyBridge Capital who is supporting Walker, said he expects Walker to raise $15 million to $22 million.

“There’s a number that’s enough and there’s a number that’s not enough,” Scaramucci said. “The $20 million number is enough.”

The best-positioned candidates should plan to barrel into Iowa with $20 million to $40 million in the bank between their campaign accounts and their super PACs, GOP strategists said.

A candidate could win the Iowa caucuses with as little as $2 million, Robinson said. And in New Hampshire, “there’s sort of a practical limit on how much TV time you can buy,” said Tom Rath, a GOP operative there.

But a bitter faceoff in Florida – the home state of Bush and Rubio – is a much more expensive proposition.

It could cost $20 million to $30 million, said Miami-Dade Republican Party Chairman Nelson Diaz, for candidates to cover the four major media markets and adapt to a new primary system due to the timing of the Florida contest. All of the state’s delegates will be awarded to the winner of the March 15 primary, the earliest possible date when states can do so rather than divvying them up proportionally.

“Only one of them survives the encounter in Florida,” said Steve Schmidt, who was the senior strategist for Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008.

All of this requires not only strong fundraising, but also disciplined spending. That’s particularly true for Bush and Rubio. While other candidates may chart their course to victory by investing heavily in a single state, both contenders from Florida are expected to compete in several states simultaneously.

“Obviously we want to raise as much as we can and then be very careful about how we spend it,” said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. “We’re not going to raise as much as the others.”

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Rubio will spend the rest of the month crisscrossing the country to average roughly one fundraiser a day. He’ll do most of that on commercial flights while a lean staff keeps his campaign headquarters humming.

At a recent Bush fundraiser in Washington, donors forked over $2,700 per person to stand around tables munching on potato chips and croissant finger sandwiches as organizers sought to keep event overhead costs low.

“We understand that we’re going to have to compete everywhere and that we’re going to need the resources to compete everywhere,” said Tim Miller, a spokesman for the Bush campaign. That requires building a campaign operation that’s flush with cash and ready to spring into action when a number of states hold their contests on March 1.

The leader of Cruz’s super PACs said the structure – four separate organizations largely controlled by three donors – allows them to minimize costs by tapping donors’ own professional networks.

“Everybody thinks this structure, as it relates to us, is somehow limiting our capacity and there’s a chokehold – actually it’s the opposite,” said the group’s leader. “I’m not going to have to buy a whole bunch of computers that I throw away at the end of this deal.”

Candidates’ overall fundraising totals will receive plenty of attention, but Republicans cautioned that every dollar isn’t created equally. Many candidates will be able to stretch their dollars further than Bush, who has the biggest target on his back and will have to combat fatigue from his family name.

Frank VanderSloot, a GOP fundraiser in Idaho and chief executive of wellness company Melaleuca, said he views Bush, Walker and Rubio as the top tier of GOP candidates. At the moment, Rubio is his favorite.

Bush faces a tougher path because of his family legacies, VanderSloot said. At a recent board meeting for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Mr. VanderSloot said some business executives confessed they were uncomfortable with the idea of “crowning” another Bush president.

“There’s a general feeling of we don’t have a monarchy here,” Mr. VanderSloot said.

Bush’s unique hurdles help explain why he and his allies are pressing donors for big contributions right up to the fundraising deadline.

After wrapping up his official announcement in Florida, Bush hopped on a call with his finance director and donors and prodded them to give to his official campaign account, according to someone familiar with the call. Dave Kochel, the campaign’s senior strategist, assured fundraisers that Bush would be a formidable competitor in the early states.

The super PAC supporting Bush has been making similar moves. On a call last week, Mike Murphy, who is running the group, encouraged donors to keep up their fundraising so he could “weaponize” their total.