Wealthy donors drawn to Rubio White House bid after Bush drops out

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Reports Say Marco Rubio Can Count on Mitt Romney's Endorsement

Within minutes of Jeb Bush dropping out of the presidential race Saturday night, some of his donors were preparing to throw their financial support behind Marco Rubio, who has emerged as the strongest candidate among the establishment wing of the party.

"Jeb's network is already naturally migrating to Marco," said Gaylord Hughey, a top Bush fundraiser from Texas, echoing what four other top donors told Reuters. "It's the clear path."

SEE ALSO: Romney endorses Rubio in 2016 Republican White House race: report

"It's a stampede," added another donor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wanted to give Bush some time after dropping out before he went public with his support of Rubio, the U.S. senator from Florida.

Three other Bush donors, who declined to be named, also said they now planned to support Rubio.

Although he has failed to win any of the first three nominating contests, Rubio is considered by many political strategists as the best positioned to challenge frontrunner Donald Trump, a billionaire political outsider, and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who has campaigned on an anti-Washington message.

Photos from the CNN town hall with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson:

13 PHOTOS
CNN town hall with Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson
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Wealthy donors drawn to Rubio White House bid after Bush drops out
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) participates in a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall as moderator Anderson Cooper (R) looks on February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., talks with Anderson Cooper during a commercial break at a CNN town hall event, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) smiles during a commercial break of a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson participates in a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall as moderator Anderson Cooper (R) looks on February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) participates in a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) participates in a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall with moderator Anderson Cooper (R) February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
CORRECTS DATE TO WEDNESDAY, NOT TUESDAY - Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appears with Anderson Cooper during a commercial break at a CNN town hall event, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) participates in a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall as moderator Anderson Cooper (R) looks on February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson waits during a commercial break at a CNN town hall event, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson appears with Anderson Cooper during a commercial break at a CNN town hall event, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) participates in a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) participates in a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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The likelihood that some of Bush's deep-pocketed donors will back Rubio comes at an opportune time for his candidacy, as he heads into a series of contests in March that will be crucial for building momentum.

Brian Ballard, who raised money for Bush last year but switched allegiances last summer to Rubio, said: "It's flooding tonight. Ninety-five percent of Jeb's money is going to end up with Marco."

Rubio had only $5 million in cash on hand at the end of January, federal campaign finance reports released Saturday night show, a slim buffer by modern campaign standards.

Conservative Solutions, a political spending group that supports his campaign, had $5.6 million on hand at the end of January, but spent an additional $9.3 million on advertising in the first 19 days of February.

By contrast, Right to Rise, Bush's political spending group, had $24.5 million on hand at the end of January but spent $6.6 million of that in February on ads. And his network of donors have proven their financial might, helping Bush at one point to amass a war chest of $150 million.

Photos of GOP candidates campaigning in South Carolina:

43 PHOTOS
GOP Candidates campaigning in South Carolina
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Wealthy donors drawn to Rubio White House bid after Bush drops out
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves after speaking at a rally at the Riverview Park Activity Center in North Augusta, S.C., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush talks with supporters at a polling place outside Eastlan Baptist Church, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., signs his book at Clemson University during a campaign stop, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016 in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Ben Carson, retired neurosurgeon and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, smiles while speaking to a reporter during a campaign stop on primary election day at The Beacon Drive-In in Spartanburg, South Carolina, U.S., on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. With South Carolina polls closing at 7 p.m., voters will have their say in the Republican presidential contest as Donald Trump, who holds a commanding lead in most South Carolina polls, and five other Republican candidates face off. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CHAPIN, SC - FEBRUARY 20: People vote in the Republican presidential primary on February 20, 2016 in Chapin, South Carolina. Polls show New York businessman Donald Trump leading his closest rival U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - FEBRUARY 19: People reach for signatures, photos, and handshakes as republican presidential candidate Donald Trump greets the crowd after speaking during a campaign event at the North Charleston Convention Center in North Charleston, SC on Friday Feb. 19, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC - FEBRUARY 19, 2016: Senator Rubio delivers a heart felt and energetic speech to the gathered supporters at RB Stall High School Friday, February 19, 2016 in North Charleston, South Carolina . (Alex Holt for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA-FEBRUARY 19: Ted Cruz comes out again to speak to supporters after sitting down with Fox Show host Sean Hannity. (Photo by Lucian Perkins /for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Friday, Feb. 19, 2016, in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Supporters for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hold signs during a South Carolina Republican primary night event Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Spartanburg, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. speaks during a campaign stop, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Summerville, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at a rally Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Anderson, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Attendees wait to enter a Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump a campaign event Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Bluffton, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, center, stands with members of the audience for the pledge of allegiance before speaking at a rally at Summerville Country Club in Summerville, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks at a rally at Summerville Country Club in Summerville, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks at the Seneca Family Restaurant, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Seneca, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Shadows of Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are cast on a sign as he speaks at a rally Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Anderson, S.C. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump meets with attendees during a campaign stop Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Walterboro, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush listens to a question from the audience during a rally at Summerville Country Club in Summerville, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016, in Walterboro, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson addresses the audience during a presidential forum at First Baptist North Spartanburg in Spartanburg, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)
Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, addresses the audience during a presidential forum at First Baptist North Spartanburg in Spartanburg, S.C., Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Sanz)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during a campaign rally in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. Cruz has flooded South Carolina airwaves with attack ads against Donald Trump, seeking to portray him as an opportunistic politician who shouldn't be trusted by conservatives. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Campaign buttons for Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, sit in a basket ahead of a campaign rally at the Columbia Armory in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. Cruz has flooded South Carolina airwaves with attack ads against Donald Trump, seeking to portray him as an opportunistic politician who shouldn't be trusted by conservatives. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
LEESVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 16: Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush (L) signs an autograph on the cast of local resident Briannah Williams (R) who was injured from cheerleading as her mother Krystle Williams (2nd R) looks on during a campaign event at Shealy's Bar-B-Que February 16, 2016 in Leesville, South Carolina. Bush continued to campaign for the upcoming GOP primary in South Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
BEAUFORT, SC - FEBRUARY 16: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks on stage during a campaign event on February 16, 2016 in Beaufort, South Carolina. Trump is leading in South Carolina polls just days before the state's primaries. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
LEESVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 16: A welcome message is seen piror to a campaign event of Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush at Shealy's Bar-B-Que February 16, 2016 in Leesville, South Carolina. Bush continued to campaign for the upcoming GOP primary in South Carolina. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
John Kasich, governor of Ohio and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a town hall event at Murray's Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Cayce, South Carolina, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. After deploying an all-in strategy in New England, where he finished behind billionaire Donald Trump, Kasich has a huge challenge ahead of the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary and the other races that will rapidly follow. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
John Kasich, governor of Ohio and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a town hall event at Murray's Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Cayce, South Carolina, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016. After deploying an all-in strategy in New England, where he finished behind billionaire Donald Trump, Kasich has a huge challenge ahead of the Feb. 20 South Carolina primary and the other races that will rapidly follow. Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Supporters pray during a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz in Anderson, South Carolina, February 16, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
BLUFFTON, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to voters on February 17, 2016 in Bluffton, South Carolina. Trump addressed the Sun City Republicans with three days remaining before the South Carolina Republican primary. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson talks with supporters after speaking at a veteran's roundtable in Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, speaks during a town hall event at the Omar Shrine Temple in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Donald Trump remains the front-runner in South Carolina, where Republican voters head to the polls on Saturday. According to a survey released Monday by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling, Trump holds a 17-point lead over Senators Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are tied for second place. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson (R) looks at his watch as he rushes to his next event after speaking at a veteran's roundtable in Columbia, South Carolina, February 17, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and 2016 presidential candidate, speaks during a press conference at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Seneca, South Carolina, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Cruz says Donald Trump sent his lawyers cease and desist letters over a Cruz campaign ad that portrays Trump as pro-choice saying that if the Cruz campaign doesn't pull ad, they'll see immediate legal action to prevent the continued broadcast of this ad, according to Cruz. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WALTERBORO, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks to South Carolina voters on February 17, 2016 in Walterboro, South Carolina. Trump addressed the Lowcountry Sportsmen for Trump with three days remaining before the South Carolina Republican primary. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
CHAPIN, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL) appears with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley at an event February 17, 2016 in Chapin, South Carolina. Haley endorsed Rubio in the state's upcoming primary. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
An attendee waves a crutch with an American flag during a campaign rally for Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican Presidential candidate, not pictured, at a farm in Walterboro, South Carolina, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Donald Trump remains the front-runner in South Carolina, where Republican voters head to the polls on Saturday. According to a survey released Monday by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling, Trump holds a 17-point lead over Senators Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are tied for second place. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
An attendee takes a selfie photograph with Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican Presidential candidate, right, following a campaign rally at a farm in Walterboro, South Carolina, U.S., on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. Donald Trump remains the front-runner in South Carolina, where Republican voters head to the polls on Saturday. According to a survey released Monday by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling, Trump holds a 17-point lead over Senators Rubio and Ted Cruz, who are tied for second place. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wearing a Superman cape departs the Civic Center after a campaign rally in Sumter, South Carolina, February 17, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
GREENVILLE, SC - FEBRUARY 17: Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) talks to moderator Anderson Cooper (R) during a commercial break of a CNN South Carolina Republican Presidential Town Hall February 17, 2016 in Greenville, South Carolina. The primary vote in South Carolina is February 20. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Fourteen-year-old supporters Kaylie Kilpatrick (C) and her friend James Hanna (L) pose dress like Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Sumter, South Carolina, February 17, 2016. / AFP / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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Even before Bush dropped out, some donors privately complained about the missteps of the campaign, expressing concern about the strength of Trump's candidacy and Bush's lackluster debate performances.

In January, a dozen top Bush donors interviewed by Reuters said they were angry that Bush was using their money to lob attack ads at Rubio, damaging the candidate they thought had the best chance to win.

They also said they had privately signaled to the Rubio campaign that they would support him once Bush dropped out. But they wouldn't go public at the time because they feared displeasing the Bush dynasty.

In addition to the Bush money, Rubio is expected to reap the support of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers and their donor network, which is expected to spend $400 million in the presidential race, according to several network donors and Koch political organization officials.

The Koch brothers are also in the midst of planning efforts to undercut Trump's candidacy, network officials and members said at a recent private retreat in California.

Their focus group research has shown that when voters learn more about how Trump's past business behavior has hurt ordinary people, they sour on him, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

(Reporting By Michelle Conlin; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Mary Milliken)

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