Bush donors see him lay out contours of 2016 campaign

MIAMI BEACH, Florida — Jeb Bush’s super PAC is raising eye-popping sums in a multi-pronged effort to define the former Florida governor for Republican presidential primary voters before his rivals can, donors say.

The likely candidate met more than 300 of his top donors near Miami Beach’s glamorous South Beach on Sunday and Monday, and began laying out what a 2016 campaign would look like, introducing advisers and outlining issues he would stress.

Ever mindful of the public’s supposed aversion to political dynasties, Bush’s team sees it as a priority to cast the brother and son of former presidents as his own man, several who attended the meeting said.

“That’s why they are going to define him as a person, so people will have a reason to listen,” said Bill Kunkler, a Bush donor from Chicago who attended. “Then voters can make an informed decision.”

The meeting, with a rooftop cocktail party at a luxury seaside hotel, was a way for Bush to thank his most generous contributors, who have helped him sprint through the first months of the year in fundraising as he prepared for an expected candidacy for the nomination.

“We’re here to celebrate the successes, not the excesses,” said Al Hoffman, a longtime Bush family friend and veteran donor. “We’re sure to be pounded on raising excessive money. But the point is, when you raise money for a campaign, there’s never enough.”

Bush or his aides would not disclose how much he has raised in the more than 60 fundraisers he’s headlined since opening the Right to Rise PAC and super PAC in January.

Kunkler said the super PAC’s financial disclosure in July would be a “wowza” moment, and others have said they expect Bush to post a figure multiple times the amount collected by rivals.

Bush armed his most loyal and influential supporters, who had contributed at least $25,000 to his super PAC, with information they would need to recruit 10 to 20 others each, donors said.

He also introduced members of the team, such as likely campaign manager David Kochel, a strategist with deep background in Iowa who advised Mitt Romney in 2012 and 2008. One of Bush’s challenges could be to avoid the wealthy Romney’s stumbles connecting with low- and middle-income Americans in the 2012 contest.

Also at the meeting, Bush, who is bilingual, held a session on outreach to Hispanics, who voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama in 2012. He’s traveling to Puerto Rico and headlining a Hispanic Christian leadership conference in Houston this week.

On the matter of political dynasties, voter sentiment is somewhat mixed, but a recent national survey suggests Bush’s team is right to be wary.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last month, 60 percent of registered voters — including 42 percent of Republicans — said Bush represents a return to policies of the past.

Almost 40 percent of registered voters said they would feel more comfortable if the nominees were not a Clinton or a Bush. Hillary Rodham Clinton, married to former President Bill Clinton, is seeking the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

With the aggressive super PAC approach, Bush is at the forefront of a shift in presidential politics made possible by a 2010 Supreme Court decision allowing these organizations to raise unlimited sums from individuals and groups such as corporations and labor unions. They must report their contributions and donors, but are not held to the contribution limits placed on federal campaigns, $2,700 per donor for the primary, and $2,700 for the general election.

Bush’s dozens of fundraisers frontload his super PAC financially and politically before he becomes a candidate. Once that happens, he will not be allowed to coordinate strategy with the group or directly raise money for it.

When Bush announces his campaign, said Hoffman, “it will be a sprint until the finish.”

Republicans familiar with his strategy say Bush is planning to use his super PAC to carry out functions typically done by campaigns, although Bush aides insist he will have enough money to run a robust candidate-driven organization as well.

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