WASHINGTON -- Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said Wednesday that he has spoken and emailed with his potential presidential rival in 2016, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, about "items of mutual interest," although Rubio wouldn't say if the two discussed the 2016 Republican primary.
Speaking at a breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, Rubio said that Bush "is going to be a very credible candidate" should he run for president, "and he's going to raise a lot of money."
Rubio noted that Bush hopes to raise $100 million in the first part of this year for a likely run. "I think he could easily do that and more," Rubio said. "He's got an extraordinary cadre of donors around the country."
Rubio's comments were a not-so-tacit acknowledgement that Bush's full-fledged entry into the race in the past month has upended the senator's own plans, and that Bush's access to his family's multigenerational stable of political donors will make it very difficult for another candidate from Florida to challenge Bush's supremacy.
"The decision I have to make is, 'Where is the best place for me to serve my country at this point in my life, and at this point in my career?'" Rubio said. "I know I need to make a decision in due time if I want to mount a credible campaign for the presidency, which I believe I can do irrespective of who else is in the race."
The deadline for filing paperwork for a presidential run is the first week in May, which means that Rubio, along with as many as 20 other potential challengers, will need to decide by then which course of action to take. Rubio told the assembled journalists on Wednesday that while the White House and his own Senate seat will both come up for a vote in 2016, he would only one for run office or the other -- not both.
"If I decide that I want to be president of the United States, then that’s what I’m going to run for,” said Rubio. “I think if you want to be president, that’s what you want to be and that’s what you run for."
As Rubio considers whether he could mount anything like a viable fundraising challenge to Bush, there remains an unknown variable in his calculations. The conservative billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who support a radical free-market ideology, will most likely back a candidate in 2016 who reflects their view of government as a barely necessary evil.
This weekend, Rubio will be one of four potential 2016 GOP candidates expected to address a California retreat of the Koch's major political advocacy group, Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce. Other speakers include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Bush was reportedly invited, but declined to come due to a scheduling conflict.
The event is being billed as the start of a "Koch primary" of sorts, where would-be candidates will solicit support from the fabulously wealthy brothers and their network of like-minded donors. A nod from the Kochs could vastly improve the prospects of a candidate like Rubio, and provide him with an alternative source of funding outside of his core constituency of Florida Republicans.
On Wednesday, Rubio played coy when asked if he plans to meet with the Koch brothers while at the retreat. But he noted that many of the people expected to attend had been supporters of his upstart run for Senate in 2010.
"Any time I have a chance to speak to people about my agenda to move forward," said Rubio, "I'm going to take that opportunity."