As I just reported in Roll Call's At the Races campaign blog, Sen. Marco Rubio raised an impressive $2.28 million during the first quarter, even as he joined with Democrats to tackle the thorny political issue of an immigration overhaul.
The Florida Republican and tea party stalwart attracted 15,000 new donors through a recently launched national direct mail program, a feat that would have been a difficult achievement had conservatives disowned him after it was revealed that he had joined the Senate's "gang of eight" bipartisan negotiators to develop comprehensive legislation to overhaul U.S. immigration law.
Rubio and the gang of eight are scheduled to unveil their bill on Tuesday, and assuming he doesn't back away from his push to rewrite immigration regulations, only time will tell if the senator can maintain the good will of the conservative grass roots. But for now, Rubio's first-quarter fundraising suggests that his high-profile role in this politically risky fight hasn't damaged his brand with conservatives. If anything, Rubio has managed to do just the opposite, while elevating his profile generally.
All of this could change, of course. There could be opposition to Rubio's bill brewing in the House, to say nothing of it's still uncertain future in the Senate.
As Robert Costa reported Monday in National Review Online, a band of House conservatives is moving to generate opposition to Rubio's bill on the south end of Capitol Hill. These Republicans are wary of comprehensive legislation, particularly any bill that would provide a pathway to legalization to illegal immigrants who currently reside in the United States. These members include Reps. Steve King of Iowa; Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania; Mo Brooks of Alabama; Louie Gohmert of Texas; and Dana Rohrabacher of California.
"King and company are preparing to block whatever comes out of the Senate, and they think they, not Rubio, will be the Republicans who shape the debate, especially on talk radio and within the conservative movement," Costa writes. (Rubio has spent a significant amount of his public relations effort to sell immigration reform explaining his position to high profile conservative talk radio and television hosts.)
Meanwhile, Rubio deserves additional attention for how he raised money during the first three months of the year. Rather than just rake in cash through his personal campaign account and his political action committee, Rubio set up a joint fundraising committee, a process usually only employed by national party committees and major presidential candidates. There are benefits to this, as I discovered last summer when I examined 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's fundraising strategy.
As I reported today:
"It allows major and mid-level donors to write one check to Rubio Victory instead of separate checks to the senator’s campaign and leadership PAC accounts. With the current federal limits, that means a contributor can write Rubio Victory a check for $10,200 for the year; married couples can write a check for $20,400. Additionally, donors that max out to Rubio Victory in 2013 are allowed to contribute an additional $5,000 to the senator’s leadership PAC in 2014."