Politics

Kasich Backers Woo Rubio's Lobbyist-Supporters

In an anti-establishment year, K Street support still seen as vital

Supporters of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's presidential bid are reaching out to Washington insiders who backed the suspended campaign of Sen. Marco Rubio. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Washington insiders backing Ohio Gov. and Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich are wooing their counterparts who supported Sen. Marco Rubio's bid by inviting them to a Capitol Hill fundraiser Thursday.  

Rubio, the Florida Republican who dropped out after losing his home state primary on Tuesday, had become K Street’s preferred GOP contender after Jeb Bush bowed out, according to a CQ Roll Call analysis of campaign finance and lobbying records.  

Members of Kasich’s network on and off Capitol Hill say they are ginning up support for a fundraiser at the Capitol Hill townhouse of the Consumer Technology Association, known as the Innovation House. Ohio Republicans, including Sen. Rob Portman and Rep. Pat Tiberi are expected to headline the event, which Kasich doesn't plan to attend.  

“We’re concentrating on turning out people for that,” said Bob Rusbuldt, president and CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, who supports Kasich. “Then, we’re obviously in the process of talking to as many Rubio supporters as we possibly can: current members of Congress, former members of Congress, people in the private sector — anybody who had endorsed Rubio.”  

Rubio had the most lawmaker endorsements, at 58, according to the Roll Call Endorsement Tracker. Kasich, a former chairman of the House Budget Committee has eight, almost all from Ohio.  

The Kasich supporters also are working on recruiting volunteers for forthcoming primaries in states including Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania, said Rusbuldt, who is volunteering his services to the Kasich campaign.  

Veteran political operatives say that despite this campaign cycle’s anti-establishment sentiment, lobbyists and lawmaker endorsements can help with fundraising. That's especially so against Trump, who has made attacks on lobbyists and insiders a prominent part of his talking points.  

“There is obviously a strong feeling going through the Republican primary electorate that they’re opposed to anything involving Washington,” said Brian J. Walsh, a former communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee who is now a partner at Rokk Solutions. “Endorsements these days really only help for fundraising. They don’t matter like they did four, six-plus years ago.”  

But, he added, K Street support isn’t the liability that some like Trump have portrayed it as.  

Walsh, who isn’t actively working for any of the GOP presidential contenders, said he believes some of Rubio’s Washington supporters may pass on Team Kasich and instead focus on keeping the Senate in Republican hands.  

Jennifer Lukawski, a Rubio backer and principal at BGR Government Affairs, said she was certain of one thing: She won't back Trump. The billionaire, she added, “is not remotely what I represent or will ever support.”  

Rubio, whom she helped by fundraising and volunteering, still “represents the future of the conservative movement, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all over again for him."  

Other lobbyists who’ve seen their first-choice picks drop out say they’re staying out of the fray.  

“I’m for whoever can win,” said Janet Mullins Grissom, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who backed Sen. Rand Paul. After a brief “Dump Trump” phase, Grissom said, she decided she and other D.C. insiders were being “obnoxiously arrogant in dismissing people who were for Trump.”  

And Kasich, she said, can’t win.  

“I’m sick of all this business of a brokered convention and trying to undo the will of the voters,” said Grissom, a lobbyist with Peck Madigan Jones. “We’re in a cycle where the political class and the monied class have been sidelined, and people just can’t stand it.”  

Some of Rubio’s long-time supporters — such as Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld lobbyist Geoff Verhoff, who bundled more than $750,000 for the Florida senator’s presidential coffers — did not respond to requests for comment.  

Kasich backer Rusbuldt said it’s a difficult situation for Rubio’s network of donors.  

“It’s really a soft sell period we’re in,” Rusbuldt said. “We’re just letting them know we’re here. We welcome them on their own time. Hard sells in these delicate moments don’t work.”

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