Why Minnesota’s biggest GOP donors like Jeb Bush so much

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
“The things that the base finds distasteful about Jeb Bush – common core, immigration – the donors do not,” said one activist.

There’s no question that the 2016 presidential race will be expensive. Some estimates suggest that a candidate for president in 2016 will have to raise about $500 million to win the White House. A Republican primary candidate will have to raise about $80 million to win the nomination. 

Therein lies the strength of Jeb Bush in Minnesota. 

The former governor of Florida is by no means a favorite among party activists who, like many conservative Republicans nationwide, dislike Bush’s take on immigration and education. As to how Bush regards Minnesota, it’s not a critical state for him in terms of delegates to the national convention or electoral votes.

But Minnesota’s Republican donors are a different story.

“The things that the base finds distasteful about Jeb Bush – Common Core, immigration – the donors do not,” said one GOP insider who, like everyone interviewed for this story, wants to be unnamed to preserve neutrality at this point in time. “As a donor, you are looking for electability and not as concerned with the issues that the base may find really important.” 

TCF Bank president Bill Cooper, broadcasting magnate Stanley Hubbard, and other executives —both current and retired — from Minnesota’s Fortune 500 firms are possible financial supporters of a Bush candidacy, said another activist. “They would like his chances to win in November,” she said.

Furthermore, while Jeb Bush is a stranger to most Minnesota voters, his father George H. W. Bush has close and personal ties to old money Republicans named McMillan, Whitney, and Pillsbury. While no longer the power elite among state Republicans, they are individuals who would make the $2,700 personal contribution to a candidate named Bush and might help out as regional fundraising chairs. 

Before committing, Minnesota’s Republican donors likely wait to see which of field of at least dozen candidates gets traction. In the case of Jeb Bush, they may have to wait awhile.  Bush supporters here say he’s not intending to compete in Iowa or even New Hampshire.  Instead, he’ll wait for the South Carolina primary, with its more diverse Republican voting pool that would be more receptive to his ideas.

Observers point out that the Republicans best hopes for the presidency all have a problem with the base. “[Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio has immigration, [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie has the chumminess with Obama after Hurricane Sandy,” one said.   

And the Bush name is a double-edged sword. “I think his problem may be ‘no more Bushes,’” according to one activist.  “And that’s too bad because he’s the best of three by far.”

But even Bush’s strongest detractors in Minnesota acknowledge the clout he carries. “His problem is the activist base,” said one.  “But that can be blunted because his strength is the donors.”    

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/24/2014 - 10:59 am.

    I don’t understand the rationale

    of a donor class that gives big money to a centrist candidate who’s policies and governing philosophies would be no different than his opponent’s.

    Just to get a “win”? I don’t get it.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/24/2014 - 02:23 pm.

      Not a “win” (of an election), it’s ACCESS (to the winner).

      That’s why so many big donors give to both sides in an election – this way, you can’t lose.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/29/2014 - 08:00 am.

      You seem to be under the misapprehension that the big players’ interests and goals are the same as yours.

      Shall we go into the whole discussion of how the “hot button” issues are only used rile up voters and get votes, and are then shelved in the inactive file until they are needed for the next election?

      • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 12/29/2014 - 09:01 am.

        “We will have no more of those candidates

        who are pledged to the same goals as our opposition and who seek our support. Turning the Party over to the so-called moderates wouldn’t make any sense at all.” – Ronald Reagan 1965

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/29/2014 - 12:03 pm.

          I guess all I can say is, “Well, there you go again…”

          Charlie Brown/Lucy/football–need I say more?

          Words vs. actions, words vs. actions…

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 12/30/2014 - 10:50 am.


      Let’s not have those “Centrist” candidates who support policies that are agreeable to 60% of all voters. Why in the world would we ever want that? Let’s find those fringe candidates who can pull a consistent 30% support and then we can just continue to fight and argue without getting anywhere. A strong majority consensus (ie >55%) can be found on almost every critical issue of the day: immigration, taxes, social security among all voters. Imagine if our leaders could actually carry out the will of the majority: Happiness breaks out all over. Approval of our leaders goes through the roof, perception of our country being on the right track soars and that confidence carries through to our economy. Why can’t this occur? The Tester’s of the world and their it’s my way or the highway attitudes.

  2. Submitted by Michael Friedman on 12/24/2014 - 11:23 am.

    A point about money

    Why is this written as if it’s perfectly okay for Bill Cooper and Stanley Hubbard to have more influence on who the Republican nominee will be than any other regular member of the party?

    And speaking of Hubbard, I wonder if one of his reporters might inquire if the unusual depiction of Bush in the photo is actually a gang symbol.

    • Submitted by James Norquist on 12/31/2014 - 08:40 am.

      High Wealth Activist Donors

      The reality is that high wealth donors DO have an impact on who the Presidential nominee will be, more so than the average voter, especially at this stage of the campaign.

      Potential candidates need to get past the “invisible primary” and be viewed as a legitimate candidate by the wealthy class, or their campaigns will go nowhere.

  3. Submitted by David Frenkel on 12/24/2014 - 11:52 am.


    Jeb has a big closet of issues, he will drop out early.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 12/24/2014 - 02:28 pm.

      He and his people know what issues will be raised.

      But doesn’t every candidate in sight have “issues” ??

      Remember: he is “the smarter Bush”. I expect he’ll run a smart campaign and prove a formidable opponent. I think we’re hearing a lot of whistling in the dark about what a lousy candidate he is.

      I hope he doesn’t get elected, if he gets the nomination. But I think it would be a big mistake to underestimate him.

      • Submitted by E Gamauf on 12/26/2014 - 09:17 am.

        Not sure he’s the smarter one

        No candidate runs their own campaign.
        They get told what to say & do.

        George was smart enough & perhaps cynical enough, to appear dumb.

        Whistling in the dark: This last election should have said a very lot about average voter involvement in the process & how easy it is to manipulate voters.

        Michele (now suddenly fine with gay rights) Bachmann will probably be up on the podium too, just to make the other candidates look a little less “sliver edge,” and that should help Jeb out.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/29/2014 - 08:11 am.

    ….“And that’s too bad because he’s the best of three by far.”….

    Very reassuring…..

  5. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/30/2014 - 10:38 am.


    I would like to see an article from MinnPost discussing why a guy whose main qualification for office is that he is the son of a poor president and the brother of perhaps the worst presdient in modern history has such appeal for wealthy Minnesota Republicans.

    • Submitted by jody rooney on 12/30/2014 - 11:05 am.

      Because he is a better than the other guys

      who have said taken extreme positions which are fine for grandstanding not so fine for governing or getting elected.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 12/30/2014 - 05:11 pm.


        That’s going to be quite a slogan: “Bush 2016–He’s not as crazy as those other guys!”

        J. Bush has done his share of grandstanding. The Teri Schiavo case was a particularly gruesome example of that.

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