WASHINGTON (AP) — Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is sending clear signs about an expected run for the presidency in 2016.
The first-term Republican lawmaker planned to join several other potential candidates at a gathering Sunday in Palm Springs, California, organized by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, who have a keen interest in the party's contenders.
More than 450 allies and donors to the Koch network were to attend, with the closing event a panel discussion with Rubio and fellow Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas on domestic policy.
The organizer, Freedom Partners, is the central hub for the political machine backed by wealthy industrialists Charles and David Koch. The traditionally private Koch group planned to let reporters watch an Internet broadcast of the event.
Over the past two days, Rubio met with his main group of 300 supporters on Miami's South Beach, and he intended to skip the Senate's schedule for the upcoming week for fundraisers on the West Coast, Texas and Illinois. Future visits are expected to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states that play a critical early role in the nominating process.
At the same time, he is trying to keep longtime donors and establishment-minded supporters from shifting loyalties toward another Floridian, former Gov. Jeb Bush, or the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who is also moving toward a third White House bid.
"Jeb Bush is going to be a very credible candidate. I think he's going to raise a lot of money," Rubio said this past week. "He's got an extraordinary network of donor around the country and I know he'll be a strong candidate if he runs."
Rubio, no slouch in fundraising, would be playing catch up to Bush and Romney. To help, Rubio has recruited Anna Rogers, the top fundraiser for American Crossroads, a conservative group backed by Karl Rove, George W. Bush's former strategist.
A campaign will be costly, and any Republican who wants the nomination must consider the preferences of the deep-pocketed Kochs.
Their sprawling network of organizations forms the backbone of the modern conservative movement. With names such as Americans for Prosperity, Generation Opportunity and the Libre Initiative, the brothers have the ability to help frame the terms of the political debate.
So it's not hard to understand why Rubio and others are happy to visit when the Kochs call.
Courting the Kochs — and donors — amounts to a public signal that Rubio is in the game, no matter that Bush, his early political mentor, may be, too.
Rubio, Paul and Cruz previously have met before with the Kochs and are aggressively seeking their blessing. Another 2016 potential candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, has met in New York with David Koch.
A Koch favorite, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, was booked for the conference, but his session was not scheduled to be available online.
Follow Philip Elliott on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/philip_elliott