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The most eligible billionaires of 2016

L to R: Peter Thiel, Paul Singer, Frank VanderSloot, Joe Ricketts, Ken Griffin, John PaulsonL to R: Peter Thiel, Paul Singer, Frank VanderSloot, Joe Ricketts, Ken Griffin, John Paulson
L to R: Peter Thiel, Paul Singer, Frank VanderSloot, Joe Ricketts, Ken Griffin, John PaulsonThiel, singer, Mcnair and Paulson all via Getty Images; Ricketts and Vandersloot: AP photo; Griffin: cnbc/nbcu photo bank

With looser finance rules and an ever-widening GOP field, the 2016 presidential race is already awash in cash. But while mega-donors like the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson stage mini-primaries for their support, less famous backers are increasingly vying for their own piece of kingmaking glory. Here, the contest’s most sought-after targets.

 

 

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel

Company: Founders Fund
Net worth: $2.2 billion, according to Wealth-X
2012 giving: $2.7 million to a pair of Ron Paul–­affiliated Super PACs

Silicon Valley’s libertarian iconoclast would seem to have a natural allegiance to Rand Paul, and he has, in fact, opened tech industry doors for the Kentucky senator. But Thiel has also backed Texas Sen. Ted Cruz since his 2009 bid for state attorney general. His loyalty remains a tossup, and he could still wind up sitting the whole thing out.

Paul Singer

Paul Singer, billionaire and chief executive officer of Elliott Management Corp., pauses during a session on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland

Company: Elliott Management
Net worth: $2 billion
2012 giving: $1 million to Mitt Romney Super PAC Restore Our Future and $1.7 million to pro-gay-rights Republicans

The hedge fund titan hosted an event in April to introduce Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to his network, though he is expected to follow suit for other contenders. Singer is driven by pro-Israel hawkishness, but his social progressivism (he has a gay son) rules out cultural conservatives. He’s favored New York–area candidates in the past—so there’s hope for you yet, George Pataki.

Frank VanderSloot

Frank VanderSloot

Company: Melaleuca
Net worth: $1.3 billion
2012 giving: $1.1 million to ­Restore Our Future

VanderSloot wants a great ­communicator—someone, he says, who can stick up for the American system of free enterprise. He’s leaning toward Rubio, while also considering Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (in that order) and expects to make a decision by late summer.

Joe Ricketts

Joe Ricketts

Company: TD Ameritrade (former) (AMTD)
Net worth: $2 billion
2012 giving: $12.45 million to an austerity-focused Super PAC that spent $9.9 million backing Romney

The TD Ameritrade founder has ties to Walker, and his son Todd hosted a barbecue for him in May. Though Walker has an inside lane, there’s plenty of time for other candidates to make a play for his support. Ricketts is still surveying the field and could end up cutting checks to multiple candidates.

Ken Griffin

Ken Griffin

Company: Citadel
Net worth: $6.6 billion
2012 giving: $1.55 million to ­Restore Our Future and another $1 million to the Karl Rove–linked American Crossroads

No hard-core partisan, Griffin helped former Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel win two Chicago mayoral races. Bush appears to be a natural fit, but the hedge fund honcho has made it clear he’s weighing all his options.

John Paulson

John Paulson

Company: Paulson & Co.
Net worth: $11.3 billion
2012 giving: Contributed $1 million, early, to Restore Our Future

The Wall Street heavy made his name betting on the implosion of the housing market and was the first to cut a seven-figure check to Restore Our Future last cycle. His 2016 allegiance is still up for grabs.

Robert McNair

Robert McNair

Company: The Houston Texans
Net worth: $2.4 billion
2012 giving: $2 million to Restore Our Future, $1 million to American Crossroads, and $100,000, early on, to a Rick Perry-affiliated Super PAC

McNair’s early support for Perry in the last cycle is no guarantee of his allegiance this time around. McNair has already contributed to “several campaigns but needs to see how the process will play itself out in the coming months,” a spokesman says.

Julian Robertson

Julian H. Robertson Jr., Chairman, President, CEO & Co-Founder
Tiger Management Advisors LLC
speaks at the Bloomberg Most Influential Markets Summit in New York, on Monday, September 22, 2014. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg *** Local Caption ***

Company: Tiger Management (former)
Net worth: $3.4 billion
2012 giving: $2.25 million to Restore Our Future

Despite giving big to Romney, the former investment manager has cut checks to several Democrats over the years and contributed generously to environmental causes (he’s a climate change believer). Look for whoever emerges as the moderate banner man to snag his support.

A version of this article appears in the June 15, 2015 issue of Fortune magazine with the headline ‘2016’s Most Eligible Billionaires.’