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  1. Florida Politics

Some Florida donors hedged their bets and gave to both Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were among Republican presidential hopefuls at a debate last month. A few dozen donors in Florida have given a total of nearly $221,000 between the two campaigns.
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio were among Republican presidential hopefuls at a debate last month. A few dozen donors in Florida have given a total of nearly $221,000 between the two campaigns.
Published Nov. 10, 2015

In Florida's political tug-of-war between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, some fans quietly chose to help both sides.

At least 45 people in the state have made financial donations to Miami's two presidential candidates, totaling nearly $221,000 between both campaigns as of the end of October, a Miami Herald analysis found. Some intended to back Bush all along but gave to Rubio's Senate re-election effort and let him keep the money after he switched to run for president. Others refused to pick between a pair of Republicans they know and like.

And a few decided to hedge their bets — a move that's looking wise now that Bush, the one-time front-runner, has plummeted in early polls while Rubio has surged.

These are not, for the most part, big-time donors bankrolling political action committees and "bundling" donations from their well-heeled friends. They generally gave a few hundred or a few thousand dollars (the limit is $2,700 to each candidate for the primary) as a token of support to their local contenders in a crowded primary.

All the donors who spoke to Herald reporters expressed admiration for both Rubio and Bush. But their feelings, like those of many Florida Republicans, are complicated. And Bush hasn't helped his case.

"I think Jeb is a very nice guy, probably the most capable of the candidates," said Alvaro Silva, a Cuban-born businessman who lives in Coral Gables.

Yet he has lost hope that the former governor can sell himself to the American people. Bush's uninspired debate performances sank him, in Silva's eyes.

"The guy is flat. And he's been totally bullied by (Donald) Trump in the debates," said Silva, who gave $650 to Rubio between April and August and $250 to Bush in June. Rubio is now his man, and Silva plans to write him more checks.

"He expresses himself well. He's a hell of a success story," Silva said. "He lacks a little bit of experience, but if he goes with a very good vice president, he could win."

The overlapping Florida donor whose contributions were perhaps most revealing was Kathryn Ballard. Her husband, Brian Ballard, a top Florida political fundraiser from Tallahassee, committed to Bush early in the campaign and gave the candidate and his allied super PAC more than $25,000 — but publicly broke ties with Bush on Thursday, telling Politico, "I'm done."

He attributed the defection to Bush's stepped-up criticism of Rubio over Rubio's missed Senate votes and past personal financial trouble. The Bush camp, unhappy with Ballard's comments about political strategy to reporters — and aware that Ballard has lobbied for Trump in the state Capitol — noted the separation was a long time coming.

Kathryn Ballard gave $2,700 to Bush on June 30 — and $1,000 to Rubio three months later, on Sept. 29. The Rubio donation, though, should not be considered an early sign of her husband's fraying relationship with Bush, Brian Ballard said. His wife wrote the check so one of the couple's three daughters — all Rubio fans — could attend a Dallas campaign event.

"No secret methods," Ballard said. "Just a college kid wanting to go to a fundraiser."

Rumors have swirled in political circles for several weeks of other donors thinking of deserting Bush, but at least one of them — regarding Coral Gables health magnate Mike Fernandez, who has given $3 million to the super PAC backing Bush — is untrue. "NEVER, EVER!!" Fernandez said in an email to a Herald reporter asking if he was switching to Rubio.

It's not unusual for much smaller donors to back more than one candidate, especially in partisan primaries.

"We want to help narrow the field to candidates who we find compelling and ultimately have a good chance of winning in the general election," Richard Horvitz, a Miami Beach investor, said in an email. "We find both Jeb and Marco to be fine candidates with character, integrity and distinctive skill sets."

Horvitz and his wife, Erica Hartman-Horvitz, an art appraiser, each maxed out to Bush in August and Rubio in September, their donations to the rivals just six days apart.

Horvitz, who also owns a home in Cleveland, is eyeing a third contender: "We are also quite supportive of (Ohio Gov.) John Kasich and believe he would make an excellent president as well," he wrote. "Any ticket with two of these three candidates would be one we could get behind enthusiastically."

Several donors were candid about their intentions to eventually settle on Rubio or Bush, depending on which one has a better chance of winning, even if leaving one of them behind might be painful.

"Both are doing great. Sad they are both running for the same position," Miami Beach developer Russell Galbut said in an email. "We will have to choose one shortly to be the candidate."

Others said they'd let the primary play out without picking a side.

"I'd like to see one president and one vice president, but I don't think it's going to happen," mused Lewis Swezy, a real estate investor and developer from Fort Lauderdale.

"I consider them both my friends, and they were friends before this election and will be friends after this election," said Miami lawyer Cesar Alvarez, who described himself as an independent and gave $5,200 to Rubio between February and April and $5,400 to Bush in September (that's $2,700 for the primary and the rest for the general election, in both candidates' cases). "Just because they're facing off in this election doesn't mean I have to pick one against the other. I give to both and let the marketplace decide that situation."

Gonzalo Diaz, a 64-year-old Cuban-American retiree from South Miami, looked beyond Bush and Rubio, saying he'd like to give to all Republicans. "I'll give to all of them so that they have something to go and fight with," he vowed in July.

And Bush loyalists remain, despite the candidate's many obstacles, committed.

"One hundred percent committed," said former state Rep. Trey Traviesa of Tampa, a Bush bundler who early on in the race pledged to raise at least $25,000 for Right to Rise USA, the pro-Bush super PAC. He also has collected at least $17,600 for the campaign and donated the maximum $2,700.

He also gave $2,500 to Rubio's Senate re-election campaign and let him keep the money after Rubio switched to the presidential race, even though he could have asked for it back. "Marco's been a dear friend for years — I'm not going to do that," Traviesa said.

But Bush continues to be his candidate.

"His record of accomplishment is unmatched — in this election and probably unmatched in the last several elections," he said. "I just think he's the best leader in the country."

As for Bush's shaky standing in the primary?

Said Traviesa: "It's a 15-round fight."