David Wilson, CEO of David Wilson Automotive Group in Orange, Calif., says he gets calls or emails almost daily seeking contributions. Wilson has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates, from the local school boards to the White House, he says. He also gave more than $300,000 to the Restore Our Future super PAC that backed Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential bid.
But this time, he says, he will wait to see how the presidential field shapes up before signing any checks. This part of the political season "is like spring training," Wilson said. "They're all playing but none of it counts."
For now, Wilson says he's most intrigued by Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, but he thinks Rubio's support of Tesla Motors' efforts to sell directly to consumers will undermine his standing with dealers.
"If he thinks Tesla or Google or Microsoft ... or anybody should be able to sell direct to consumers without dealer protections, I won't be supporting him," Wilson said.
Indeed, Tesla's sales model could loom large in the primary season, as it spotlights the fundamental debate over government's role in business and pits two powerful GOP constituencies -- opponents of government regulation and the auto-dealer lobby -- against each other.
The conflict is evident in New Jersey, where the administration of Gov. Chris Christie, a likely GOP candidate, imposed a dealer-backed rule banning direct sales of electric vehicles. A year later, Christie signed a bill to legalize Tesla sales.
It's also evident in the decision by the Koch brothers' conservative super PAC, Americans for Prosperity, to publicly support Tesla's direct-sales model on the principle of freeing business from government regulation. That means that candidates who take a side on Tesla risk either alienating franchised auto dealers or lining up against the deep-pocketed Koch brothers.
Bush began courting auto dealers early. He championed growth-minded policies and blasted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's crackdown on alleged lending bias in a speech to dealers in January.
On March 3, Click co-hosted a fundraiser for the Bush-linked Right to Rise at a resort in Arizona. Click said the event raised more than $100,000 for the super PAC, though he declined to be more specific. And just last week, Bush was slated to attend a reception and dinner at the Bel Air, Calif., home of Robert Tuttle, Click's business partner and former ambassador to Britain under President George W. Bush, The Washington Post reported.