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  1. Florida Politics

Influential billionaire Paul Singer throws support to Marco Rubio for president

Paul Singer, founder and CEO of hedge fund Elliott Management Corporation, is throwing his support to Sen. Marco Rubio, a decision that could swing millions of dollars in contributions behind Rubio at a critical point in the Republican nominating battle.
Paul Singer, founder and CEO of hedge fund Elliott Management Corporation, is throwing his support to Sen. Marco Rubio, a decision that could swing millions of dollars in contributions behind Rubio at a critical point in the Republican nominating battle.
Published Oct. 31, 2015

One of the wealthiest and most influential Republican donors in the country is throwing his support to Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a decision that could swing millions of dollars in contributions behind Rubio at a critical point in the Republican nominating battle.

The decision by the donor, Paul Singer, a billionaire New York investor, is a signal victory for Rubio in his battle with rival Jeb Bush for the affections of major Republican patrons and the party's business wing.

It comes as a major blow to Bush, who is seeing his once vigorous campaign imperiled by doubts among supporters, and whose early dominance of the race was driven by his financial muscle. Bush and several other candidates, including Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, had competed fiercely for Singer's blessing.

In a letter that Singer sent to dozens of other donors on Friday, which was obtained by the New York Times, Singer described Rubio — who was elected to the Senate in the Tea Party wave but has been embraced by the party's Washington elite — as the only candidate who can "navigate this complex primary process, and still be in a position to defeat" Hillary Rodham Clinton in a general election.

He praised Rubio's message of optimism about America's future, his work on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and his ability to make a persuasive case to voters as key reasons to support him.

"He is accustomed to thinking about American foreign policy as a responsible policymaker," Singer wrote. "He is ready to be an informed and assertive decision-maker."

Singer, who gave more money to Republican candidates and causes last year than any other donor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is courted by Republicans both for the depth of his own pockets and for his wide network of other conservative givers. He is known for his caution and careful vetting of candidates and, while passionately pro-Israel and a supporter of same-sex marriage, he is generally viewed as a donor who does not believe in litmus tests.

In recent years, he has frequently deployed his network to cultivate up-and-coming Republicans who he believes can help expand the party's demographic appeal. Among them are Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, and Rubio himself, whom Singer backed early in his 2010 race when many of Singer's peers sided with Charlie Crist, then Florida's Republican governor — a moment that was seen as a turning point in the race.

The battle for Singer's support — which included months of behind-the-scenes lobbying by aides and appearances by candidates over the past year at dinners and breakfasts convened by Singer — underscores the growing clout of big donors in presidential elections, particularly this year, when super PACs, and the wealthy donors who finance them, have moved to the center of the race.

But Singer provides something that some other coveted Republican donors do not. Unlike Sheldon Adelson, a fellow Republican billionaire and Israel supporter, Singer is an assiduous and effective "bundler" for candidates: In the 2012 campaign, he raised more than $3 million in the primaries for Mitt Romney, the eventual Republican nominee. Many other donors, particular in the New York financial world, turn to Singer's political advisers for strategic guidance on their own donations.

And Rubio, who struggled to raise campaign cash over the summer and has relied heavily on outside groups to pay for advertisements promoting him, needs their help.

Both Rubio and Bush eagerly sought Singer's backing, as did Christie, and all three have ties to the wealthy hedge fund manager. Singer was a top fundraiser for Bush's brother, former President George W. Bush, and was part of a special delegation that traveled with President Bush to Israel to celebrate the country's 60th anniversary.

Rubio has aggressively embraced the cause of wealthy pro-Israel donors like Adelson, whom the senator is said to call frequently, and Singer, who both serve on the board of the Republican Jewish Coalition, an umbrella group for Republican Jewish donors and officials. Jeb Bush has been less attentive, in the view of some of these donors: Last spring, he refused to freeze out his longtime family friend James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state, after Baker spoke at the conference of a liberal Jewish group.

The lobbying of Singer intensified in recent weeks as Bush's debate stumbles and declining poll numbers drove many donors to consider Rubio anew. Last week, Bush's campaign manager, Danny Diaz, and senior adviser, Sally Bradshaw, flew to New York to make personal appeals on Bush's behalf, in the hopes of heading off an endorsement of Rubio, according to two people close to the former governor's campaign.

But Singer had been leaning toward Rubio, and there was no single moment that convinced him, these people said. It was time to make his support known. The New York Times, citing people familiar with Singer's thinking leading up to the endorsement, reports that he takes his time weighing an endorsement in presidential races, after making an early commitment to Rudolph W. Giuliani in the 2008 race and seeing his candidate falter.

In his letter to his donor network, Singer described Rubio as "the best explainer of conservatism in public life today, and one of the best communicators the modern Republican Party has seen. Marco Rubio can appeal to both the head and the heart."

For Rubio, Singer was among the leading prizes in the world of Republican donors and bundlers who were still weighing the candidates. Of the roughly 1,200 people who raised money or hosted fundraising events for Romney in 2012, according to a New York Times analysis, about two-thirds had yet to give a donation to any of the Republican candidates through the end of September, the most recent disclosures available from the Federal Election Commission.

Bush and Rubio have competed fiercely in the money race, targeting many of the same donors and bundlers, especially in Florida, where Rubio serves as senator and Bush was governor. Some Bush donors said privately that they originally joined Bush's operation out of respect for and loyalty to the former Florida governor, despite a belief that Rubio might have been the party's better bet, according to the Times. Now they are expressing concern about Bush's attacks on Rubio, saying Bush's direct swipe during the debate at Rubio's character and credibility was dangerous for both men.

Bush's stilted debate performances have set off a new round of jockeying as Rubio's supporters seek to lure some Bush backers to their camp. Several people involved in Rubio's fundraising said they had been fielding calls from Bush donors since Wednesday's debate, suggesting they were rethinking their decision.

"I don't know if you'll get a tsunami of people immediately, because these are good people, and they are loyal," said Jonathan Burkan, a New York financial executive who is supporting Rubio. "But you'll get some people."

In recent weeks, as Bush and his campaign took a series of increasingly direct swipes at Rubio's age and accomplishments, Rubio has not been shy about responding in kind. In a meeting with Scott Walker donors two weeks ago, according to the New York Times, Rubio suggested that Bush's time in politics had passed.

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