Sen. Ted Cruz dominated the headlines and airwaves during a budget impasse that shut down the government for more than two weeks, and it seemed inevitable that a wave of campaign checks would follow.
But bluster isn’t the only path to big bucks, as Sen. Marco Rubio knows.
Nearly $2 million flowed in to Rubio’s joint fundraising and re-election committees between July and September, plus a yet-undisclosed amount from his leadership PAC. Roughly half of that money came from small-dollar donors giving less than $200.
Cruz, by comparison, raised about $1.19 million during the third quarter, fueled in no small part by his 21-hour speech on the Senate floor opposing funding for Obamacare.
Compared to Cruz, Rubio’s fundraising strategy, dominant among congressional lawmakers eyeing White House bids, has been more deliberate and methodical. He established a joint fundraising committee to funnel maximum money into his separate re-election and leadership committees — a deft workaround of campaign finance rules that has since been copied by Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., two other potential presidential hopefuls. Like Cruz, Paul brought in more than $1 million during the past three months.
Rubio, R-Fla., has not recently generated the level of buzz that Paul and Cruz have, in part by design. Since he assumed an outsized role in the short-lived Senate immigration-reform push, and received considerable pushback from conservative Republicans because of it, Rubio has been keeping a low public profile. But that doesn't mean Rubio hasn't been actively raising money.
In September, supporters converged on a D.C. barbecue joint to write checks for the Florida senator. Later in the month, as Cruz delivered his marathon speech on the Senate floor, Rubio ducked out to rub shoulders with donors and other party bigwigs at a fundraiser across the street for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad.
Meanwhile, Rubio has veered away from his involvement in immigration reform legislation to step gingerly into the policy sphere, offering his support to crowd-pleasing conservative initiatives like defunding Obamacare without taking an enthusiastic lead on any issue.
As the government lurched toward a shutdown, Rubio joined Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, the conservative leaders of the budget fight in the Senate, in a news conference to insist that defunding the health care law as part of a government funding package was “critical.”
“It truly is our last best chance to stop this law from moving forward,” Rubio said.
And at the Value Voters Summit this month, Rubio focused his message on a trusty mainstay: strengthening the economy.
“You cannot build a strong economy if it is not built on strong values,” he said.
Those messages about health care and the economy have benefited Rubio’s fundraising in much the same way they have Cruz or Paul.
Rubio has also leaned on a formidable team to spearhead his fundraising efforts. His leadership PAC is run by Terry Sullivan, an alumnus of former Sen. Jim DeMint’s office and in the South Carolina office of Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign. Also on board: Carmen Miller Spence, a former regional finance director for the Republican National Committee, and Dorinda Moss, a former finance director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
A personal touch hasn’t hurt Rubio, either. He met with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in California in August — and Zuckerberg afterward donated the maximum amount to Rubio’s Senate re-election committee.