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Jeb Bush's Northwest Donors Watch $2.5M Investment Go Down The Drain

Jeb Bush's major Northwest donors say they aren't sure what they're going to do in the presidential race after watching their $2.5 million investment in the former Florida governor go down the drain.

The collapse of the Bush campaign — despite the $150 million it raised while tapping wealthy Republican donors — has led many of his financial backers around the country to back Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Bush dropped out following his fourth-place showing in South Carolina on Saturday.

Rubio portrays himself as the strongest challenger to billionaire businessman Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, two candidates who are anathema to much of the Republican establishment.

But Bush's major Northwest fundraisers decided in a conference call Monday morning that they would remain neutral, at least until after the Super Tuesday primaries on March 1 in a dozen states.

"I'm perplexed about the right thing to do," said David Nierenberg, a Camas, Washington, investor who said he was not inspired by the alternatives.

Bush, whose father and brother both served as president, was once seen as the favorite to win his party nomination. But he was quickly eclipsed as Trump shot up in the polls and repeatedly ridiculed Bush as "low energy" and attacked George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq and his failure to stop the 9/11 attacks.

Nierenberg, Portland hotel magnate Gordon Sondland, Seattle-based venture capitalist Stephen Babson and Portland fundraiser Tiffany Grabenhorst put together a series of fundraisers for Bush in Portland and Seattle in April and September 2015. The events and other fundraising activities by the group produced about $2.5 million for Bush's campaign fund and for his associated super PAC.

No other presidential candidate came close in Oregon and Washington, a region of the country often ignored by Republicans because of its political dominance by Democrats. But the Northwest does have a large number of well-heeled Republicans, often with a moderate bent, who have been a rich source of campaign money for the Bush family and for Mitt Romney in his 2012 race for president.

Nierenberg, a longtime Romney friend and business associate, also often donates to Democrats. He said he couldn't vote for Cruz and that it would be "a long putt" to vote for Trump. He said he was also concerned about Rubio's support for banning abortion without exception and for his lack of executive experience. Rubio has said he would support any bill limiting abortion but would also back prohibiting abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

"I might vote for Hillary as the least-bad choice," Nierenberg said. "Make no mistake about it, Hillary is a pretty bad choice."

Monica Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon who ran for U.S. Senate in 2014 and who backed Bush, said Bush had a lot of difficulties to overcome.

"There was a lot of Bush family fatigue and we're really seeing a lot of this anti-establishment anger," said Wehby, adding that she is now leaning toward Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is running as more centrist figure.

Shawn Lindsay, a former state representative from Hillsboro who chairs Rubio's campaign in Oregon, said his candidate hasn't so far picked up any major Bush donors from the Northwest. He said Rubio officials are "being very diplomatic" about approaching Bush supporters disappointed by the Florida governor's flameout after contests in just three states.

Copyright 2016 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.