Koch brothers, other 2016 mega donors warm to Carly Fiorina

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Who Is Carly Fiorina?

Carly Fiorina has emerged as the Republican candidate of the moment in conservative fundraising circles, drawing the notice of the billionaire Koch brothers and other wealthy donors who could instantly remake her shoestring presidential campaign.

Fiorina's show-stealing performance in a Republican presidential debate last month, and her subsequent surge in the polls, has prompted industrialists Charles and David Koch to take a "serious look" at the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, according to three sources close to the brothers.

She has now moved to the short list of candidates the Kochs may support with their reported $1 billion war chest, the sources said. Florida Senator Marco Rubio is among those on the coveted list, the sources said.

Click through for some images of Carly Fiorina on the campaign trail.

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Carly Fiorina on the campaign trail
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Koch brothers, other 2016 mega donors warm to Carly Fiorina
DAVENPORT, IA - SEPTEMBER 25: Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina addresses the Quad Cities New Ideas Forum at St. Ambrose University on September 25, 2015 in Davenport, Iowa. Fiorina is currently polling in second place behind Donald Trump for the Republican nomination. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
MYRTLE BEACH, SC - SEPTEMBER 22: Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina speaks to voters during a town hall meeting at the Ocean Reef Convention Center September 22, 2015 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Fiorina is a former Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett-Packard and currently chairs the non-profit philanthropic organization Good360. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0333 -- Pictured: (l-r) Politician Carly Fiorina during an interview with host Jimmy Fallon on September 21, 2015 -- (Photo by: Douglas Gorenstein/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - SEPTEMBER 18: Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina speaks to voters at the Heritage Action Presidential Candidate Forum September 18, 2015 in Greenville, South Carolina. Ten republican candidates were each given 25 minutes to talk to the crowd at the Bons Secours Wellness Arena in the upstate of South Carolina. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Republican presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina looks on during the Republican presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California on September 16, 2015. Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump stepped into a campaign hornet's nest as his rivals collectively turned their sights on the billionaire in the party's second debate of the 2016 presidential race. AFP PHOTO / FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive waves as she and supporters march in the Labor Day parade Monday, Sept. 7, 2015, in Milford, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
DERRY, NH - SEPTEMBER 6: Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina campaigns in New Hampshire over Labour Day weekend and meets with locals at MaryAnn's Diner on September 6, 2015 in Derry, New Hampshire. (Photos by Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
LITTLETON, NEW HAMPSHIRE - AUGUST 20: Carly Fiorina meets New Hampshire voters at a Spaghetti Dinner in the north country of Littleton, New Hampshire on Thursday, August 20, 2015. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina does a television interview during a visit to the Iowa State Fair, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
FILE- In this Aug. 14, 2015, file photo, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina talks to a restaurant patron during a campaign stop at the Starboard Market in Clear Lake, Iowa. CNN on Tuesday, Sept. 1, amended its criteria for the next Republican presidential debate, giving Fiorina a better chance at appearing in the Sept. 16 primetime affair. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina waves to the crowd after speaking at the RedState Gathering, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina speaks during a FOX News Channel pre-debate forum at the Quicken Loans Arena, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland. Seven of the candidates have not qualified for the primetime debate. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Republican presidential candidate, businesswoman Carly Fiorina speaks alongside moderator Jack Heath during a forum Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in Manchester, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina speaks to local residents during a meet and greet at Cecil's Cafe, Thursday, July 23, 2015, in Marshalltown, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina greets manufacturing worker Tommy Theth as she tours Turbocam, Monday, July 6, 2015, during a campaign stop in Barrington, N.H. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Republican presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina speaks at the Road to Majority 2015 convention in Washington, Saturday, June 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina poses for photographs, Friday, June 19, 2015, at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, gestures during her address at an N.H. High Tech Council event in Manchester, N.H., Friday, May 8, 2015. Fiorina, who ran for a Senate seat in California and lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, emerged as one of the Republican Party's most aggressive Clinton critics in the weeks leading up to this week's announcement of her candidacy. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, is interviewed by Neil Cavuto, during the "Cavuto" program on the Fox Business Network, in New York, Wednesday, May 6, 2015. Fiorina, who ran for a Senate seat in California and lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, emerged as one of the Republican Party's most aggressive Clinton critics in the weeks leading up to this week's announcement of her candidacy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina speaks at the Iowa Faith & Freedom 15th Annual Spring Kick Off, in Waukee, Iowa, Saturday, April 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
FILE - In this April 18, 2015 file photo, Carly Fiorina speaks at the Republican Leadership Summit in Nashua, N.H. The former technology executive formally entered the 2016 presidential race on Monday. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
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A spokesman for the Kochs declined to comment

Other politically powerful mega donors are also lining up.

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens hosted a packed luncheon at a posh Dallas venue for Fiorina in late September, while venture capitalist Tom Perkins is planning a fundraising gala in California in the next few months.

"My money is on her," said Perkins, who served on HP's board during Fiorina's tenure. "I think she could be president."

As the only woman on stage at the Sept. 16 debate, Fiorina emerged as the most effective candidate in taking on front-runner Donald Trump, chastening the celebrity real estate magnate for his controversial comments about her looks.

"The emails have not stopped" since then, said seasoned California political fundraising consultant Karolyn Dorsee, who is working on behalf of several Republican presidential candidates, including Rubio and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. "Everybody wants her, nationwide, in every single state."

Even before her rapid rise in the polls - she has vaulted to second place in the key early voting state of New Hampshire - Fiorina had already garnered about $2 million in support from the likes of reclusive hedge fund baron Robert Mercer and former Univision CEO Jerrold Perenchio.

"SHE'S PRETTY VIABLE"

Fiorina's campaign now appears far less of a long-shot than it did over the summer, when she was struggling with sparse crowds, scant name recognition and a coffer of just $5 million that put her at the bottom of the money race.

Her campaign thus far has been a bare-bones operation, relying on a young, relatively low-paid, skeletal staff as opposed to the sprawling operations built by more well-endowed candidates like Bush.

Support from the Kochs would change her operation overnight.

"We think she's pretty viable," said broadcasting billionaire Stanley Hubbard, a member of the Koch brothers' network of conservative advocacy groups who donates heavily to political candidates.

The Kochs have been keeping a close eye on Fiorina ever since she announced in May, the Koch sources said. They extended an invite to her to speak at their exclusive summit of rich donors at an oceanfront luxury resort in August along with Rubio, Bush, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Fiorina, the lowest polling candidate at the gathering, impressed the big money attendees with her mastery of policy detail and heavyweight stage presence. "She's good in the room," said one participant at the event, who declined to be named.

The Fiorina campaign, and the independent fund-raising Super PAC supporting her, declined comment.

The Kochs, who own America's second-largest private company, have backed Fiorina in the past, notably when she ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer for her California Senate seat in 2010.

At the time, the Kochs had helped mount a campaign for Proposition 23, a ballot measure designed to suspend the state law banning higher carbon emissions that was ultimately defeated. Fiorina also supported the measure. A Koch Industries PAC helped sponsor a Washington fundraiser for Fiorina at the time and gave $10,000 to her campaign.

As Fiorina's money problems fade, some high dollar donors who have already contributed are now considering doubling down. Dallas philanthropist Elloine Clark has so far written one $100,000 check to the Super PAC supporting Fiorina. She says she may give more. "I think she's unflappable," said Clark. "And she doesn't react like an adolescent."

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