DeVos family backs Rubio in GOP primaries

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — The powerful DeVos family of west Michigan is lining up behind Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primaries, an endorsement that comes with financial help for the Florida senator’s campaign at a critical juncture.

Billionaire businessman Dick DeVos said Thursday in an exclusive interview with The Detroit News that his family decided to back Rubio after former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush dropped out of the race following a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

“Through our public endorsement, we’d like to continue to do what we can to help Marco to gain momentum,” DeVos said. “And that’s his job. We’ll do our part, but he has to do his part and I think he will.”

The DeVos clan, one of Michigan’s wealthiest families, is a major financier of Republican Party politics. The Rubio endorsement will come with an infusion of campaign contributions to Rubio’s campaign and the super political action committee supporting his candidacy.

“We’ll be supporting individually as we’re able, and then we’ll be encouraging others,” DeVos said.

Dick DeVos said he and his wife, Betsy, have known Rubio since his speakership of the Florida House of Representatives in 2006-08, when they were advocating for an expansion of school choice laws in the Sunshine State.

“As a result, Florida has made enormous gains in education results for the children of Florida and certainly credit to Gov. Bush, but a lot of credit goes to Marco for that,” he said.

“We need a leader of his capability and his experience and perspective,” added DeVos, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of Michigan in 2006.

Rubio finished second to billionaire businessman Donald Trump in Tuesday’s Nevada caucuses and Saturday’s South Carolina primary, and has yet to win a state in the first four contests.

Republican Party heavyweights have been pressing Ohio Gov. John Kasich to leave the race to give Rubio a clearer pathway to compete with Trump and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, whose campaign has slumped since winning the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses.

The pro-Kasich New Day for America super political action committee released a television ad Thursday that is set to run in Michigan, Vermont and Massachusetts that argues Kasich is better able to defeat Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton than Rubio.

But DeVos said his family will use its endorsement to try to consolidate support for Rubio ahead of Michigan’s March 8 primary.

DeVos wouldn’t “speculate” on what would happen to the GOP if front-runner Donald Trump is the nominee.

For months, the DeVos family has remained officially neutral in the race, choosing to give campaign cash to various GOP candidates or their super PACs. DeVos family members have given at least $21,600 to Rubio’s campaign since November 2015.

Family patriarch Richard M. DeVos Sr., co-founder of Amway and owner of the Orlando Magic, gave $250,000 to Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC on Jan. 19, and a matching $250,000 to the pro-Rubio Conservative Solutions Super PAC. He also made the maximum $2,700 donation each to the candidate committees of Bush and Rubio in November.

His wife, Helen, donated $2,700 each to the campaign committees of Kasich, Bush and Rubio during the same month.

“Primaries are challenging because you have more subtle differences between candidates,” Dick DeVos said. “... It’s not a vote against one, it’s really trying to sort which one you feel is the best choice. And that’s what brought us to Marco as the race narrowed and it became clear.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.