Billionaire to Rubio: Time to step it up – Politico

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The 2016 contender has been coasting through debates, but rivals will take aim tonight.

Like just about every Republican these days, Singer — who accrued a $2 billion fortune through a famously cautious investment strategy — is wondering if the ascendant 44-year-old Florida senator can really create a big-time national campaign, said two people familiar with the hedge fund manager’s thinking.

It’s not clear whether Singer grilled Rubio about his campaign when the two men supped in New York earlier this month, but in the past he’s aired concerns about the scope of the senator’s political operation and fundraising operations, the sources told POLITICO.

Seldom has a candidate running around 9 percent in national polls (in third place, a click or two ahead of Jeb Bush) generated as much buzz as Rubio has heading into the third Republican primary debate Wednesday night in Boulder, Colorado. And he’s not into the buzz, at least not yet: Rubio is a candidate who prioritizes self-preservation over an early surge in the polls — overseeing a campaign geared at protecting him from being eaten alive as the latest establishment standard-bearer.

“We only need to be in first place for one f–king day,” said one Rubio staffer, who hopes his man peaks — at earliest — in December, with just enough momentum heading into Iowa and New Hampshire.

That’s why Rubio has adopted a small-mammal approach, maneuvering quietly at ground level, hoping that dinosaurs like Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Ben Carson ignore him while stomping each other into extinction.

Therein lies his paradox. To gain stature — and attract enough donors to be competitive in the first four make-or-break contests — Rubio needs to aggressively promote himself, but not so aggressively that he becomes a focal point of the race.

The think-small strategy isn’t just a matter of dodging incoming fire: Another person close to the campaign said that Rubio had counted on more cash early on — but opted to steer much of his war chest to travel, in the belief that the energetic, articulate candidate would be the campaign’s best kick-starter. That means small operations in battleground states and a focus on relatively cheap social media and volunteer recruitment.

“If you are still standing in May, running smaller or leaner now is going to look very smart. If you are out, not so much,” says Chip Felkel, a South Carolina GOP consultant who is skeptical of Rubio’s decision. “Rubio’s team has prided themselves on this lean approach, and on their commitment to digital rather than boots on the ground. They are making a pretty gutsy bet that you don’t need a presence anywhere except online. That may make your campaign more agile, sure, but I am not sure that equates to strength.”

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