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Local Republicans to host fundraisers for Bush, Rubio

Buffalo Republicans will soon enter the 2016 presidential sweepstakes in a big way by hosting fundraisers for two top-tier candidates, with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush leading the way Tuesday at the Atrium @ Rich’s.

Not to be outdone, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio will appear at a local event of his own Aug. 25 hosted by a trio of top Erie County political donors.

While New York is regarded as solid Democratic turf in the upcoming presidential election, the two local events could figure significantly in not only the GOP fundraising picture, but also in exposing Bush and Rubio to state Republicans who will vote in next year’s primary.

Bush, son of one president and brother of another, will kick off the Western New York phase of the presidential primary campaign Tuesday with a breakfast fundraiser at the Rich’s banquet facility on Niagara Street. It will be hosted by Rich Products Chairman Robert E. Rich Jr. and his wife, Vice Chairwoman Melinda R. Rich, residents of Florida who sources say have developed a relationship with Bush over the years.

“My expectation is that it will be a small crowd; I hope it will be a more personal event,” said local businessman Paul J. Harder, who is hosting the event with Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, and real estate developer Nick Sinatra.

Tickets for the Rubio event are expected to cost $1,000, and $2,700 with a photo. Those who raise $25,000 from several sources will be invited to a dinner in conjunction with the event.

Bush’s visit will mark his first to Buffalo in recent memory, as he attempts to maintain unofficial frontrunner status in a crowded GOP field that may eventually feature as many as 19 candidates. The local Republican community may prove just as widespread, though the Bush and Rubio factions are already organizing.

Although he has not declared anything official, Erie County Republican Chairman Nicholas A. Langworthy has expressed interest in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. And former New York Gov. George E. Pataki is also known to maintain strong local support for the bid he announced last month in New Hampshire.

Rubio, meanwhile, has been quietly cultivating a strong cadre of local supporters that culminated last year in a September fundraiser at the East Aurora home of Delaware North co-CEO Jeremy M. Jacobs Jr. It followed a Miami Dolphins-Buffalo Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium that the senator also attended.

Anthony H. Gioia, the retired Buffalo businessman and former ambassador to Malta who has emerged as a major Rubio supporter, said Tuesday he and businessmen Mark E. Hamister and Patrick P. Lee will host the August event. It is expected to take place at a Snyder residence not yet announced.

Gioia said that no dollar figure has been set as a goal but that he expects the Rubio campaign to leave Buffalo with significantly richer campaign coffers.

“We’ll do well,” he said. “I guarantee we will leave no stone unturned and get every nickel there is to get in Buffalo. We’ve done it every time.”

Indeed, Gioia and his team have earned a reputation as major political fundraisers. Gioia and others have hosted past local events that netted $1 million for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, about $375,000 for Republican Senate candidates in 2010, and about $850,000 for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential effort.

“Mark, Patrick and myself are getting good chunks in already,” Gioia said. “We have a good network.”

Hamister said he has been impressed by Rubio for several years, especially by his ability to “resonate with people.”

“My commitment to him is almost unmeasurable,” he said, noting that he, Gioia and Lee all serve on Rubio’s national finance committee.

Hamister said initial invitations have already resulted in $100,000 for the Rubio campaign.

“We’re very bullish on where this will ultimately go,” Hamister said.