Republican excitement over the prospect of Jeb Bush running for U.S. Senate has given way to increasing speculation that the former governor will stay out of the race.
Bush declined to comment for this article but was expected to make an announcement perhaps as early as this week.
Even with his father on national TV Sunday touting Bush as a terrific potential future senator or president, friends say family considerations could outweigh the pull of public service.
Bush may conclude after completing his methodical review process that there are other ways he can help rebuild the GOP besides a Senate career that would take a toll on his consulting business and be difficult for his family.
"I know it's a big struggle for him,'' said former state Republican chairman Al Cardenas, who believes Bush is still undecided. "As his friend I think maybe he's better off where he is. As a Republican who loves his party so much, I know we need him."
Bush, 55, has been discussing a potential bid with fundraisers, friends and political activists since Republican incumbent Mel Martinez announced Dec. 2 that he would not seek a second term in 2010. But even close friends say Bush has given little hint about his leanings.
"It's a huge decision to run for this seat because it's not like taking a job. It's a long-term commitment,'' said John Rood, a Jacksonville developer and top Republican fundraiser. "If he does it, I'll work very hard for him. If he decides not to do it, I'll understand because he's already given a lot to the state."
Justin Sayfie, another fundraiser and a former Bush aide, acknowledged that the perception among many Republican activists has shifted from predictions that Bush was about to jump in to a more "neutral" view as the former governor's interest looked more uncertain.
"I put it at dead even — 50/50. I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to run, I wouldn't be surprised if he decided not to run,'' said Sayfie, who met with Bush a few weeks ago. "Once he makes a decision in his own mind he does not like to keep that decision to himself for very long. If he decided not to do it, I think it comes sooner rather than later."
Jorge Arrizurieta, a major Bush family donor in Miami, said he also was unsure about Bush's leanings despite talking to him several times recently.
"Because it's a legislative seat it's not what he would normally be thinking about doing, but his party is at an interesting crossroads. It's hard to effectuate change or affect public opinion without a platform," Arrizurieta said.
Despite his brother's anemic national approval ratings as president, Bush remains popular in Florida and a giant in the GOP. Just by declaring last month that he was thinking about running, he effectively cleared the field of potential Republican candidates.
"Speculation about Jeb has frozen the field on both sides of the aisle,'' said former House Speaker Marco Rubio, a potential candidate himself, along with Attorney General Bill McCollum. "No one is saying, 'I'm in.' "
State party leaders gather for their quarterly meeting in Orlando on Saturday, but Bush won't be there. He is expected to be in Norfolk, Va., at the christening of the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush.
On Fox News Sunday, the former president hailed Jeb Bush as a great leader who should stay active in politics.
"I think his dad and those of us close to him hope he returns to public service. That's the consistent feedback he received,'' Cardenas said. "But the question is when."
Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Beth Reinhard contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com or (727)893-8241.