Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., enjoys a coffee while speaking at an event at a restaurant, Oct. 9, 2015, in Las Vegas.
Photo by John Locher/AP

Bush fundraiser defects over Rubio attacks

Updated

A leading Florida fundraiser who initially backed Jeb Bush’s campaign is publicly withdrawing support over Bush’s ongoing attacks on Sen. Marco Rubio. 

Brian Ballard, a lobbyist in Tallahassee who donated $20,000 to the pro-Bush super PAC Right to Rise USA, told Politico on Thursday that he had privately abandoned Bush earlier but wanted to make his concerns public now to discourage him from bashing Rubio. 

“The campaign has become negative, one that is about attacking and trying to bring down Marco Rubio. And that doesn’t sit well – not only with me, but with anyone who knows the two,” Ballard said. “Marco’s a friend of mine. I didn’t sign up for a campaign that was going to be negative and attack a bright star of the party’s future. It doesn’t make sense. I’m over it. And I’m done.”

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A source familiar with Ballard’s thinking confirmed to NBC News on Thursday that Ballard was switching his allegiance to Rubio. While Ballard is a major Florida fundraiser who previously backed the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney, he is not listed as one of Bush’s bundlers – supporters who have raised more than $17,600 for the campaign itself. 

An aide to the Bush campaign who asked not to be named to speak freely told MSNBC that Ballard had “not been actively engaged” in the campaign for several months prior to the debate amid tensions over over his comments to the press and his comments were not a “surprise.”

“While we appreciate Brian’s support of the governor, in August, we expressed to him serious concerns about his continued lack of discretion regarding campaign strategy particularly in relation to his interaction with the national media,” the aide said. 

In addition to Ballard, Politico quoted a number of Bush supporters expressing unease with Bush’s recent criticism of Rubio’s missed votes in the Senate and lack of experience, which Bush raised in last month’s debate. Ballard complained afterward about Bush’s attacks, telling the Associated Press the next day that it was “not the kind of ideas campaign that he has promised.” An aide to Rubio told reporters in the spin room after the debate that a number of Bush donors had reached out to them that night. 

Bush and Rubio, a onetime protege of the former governor, draw from a similar pool of donors in Florida who have supported them both over the years. While Bush has gotten the better of Rubio in fundraising so far, especially when it comes to super PAC donors, Rubio has arguably overtaken him as the more likely nominee and it’s natural that Bush backers sympathetic to his campaign might grow concerned about dragging him down in the race.

Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio

Bush fundraiser defects over Rubio attacks

Updated