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JEB BUSH JOLTS GOP RACE

Florida's former governor will "actively" explore a presidential run.
Published Dec. 17, 2014

When Jeb Bush announced Tuesday that he is "actively" exploring a 2016 campaign for president, he was sending a decisive message to major donors and potential rivals: I'm in.

Even the way he released the news via Facebook and Twitter seemed designed to convey that the 61-year-old former Florida governor, whom some have cast as rusty in the unforgiving glare of modern politics, would mount a vibrant campaign.

His statement leapt ahead of other candidates who have given all indications they will run but not in a formal way, and it could smother talk of 2012 nominee Mitt Romney making a return.

"One of the big question marks has been removed," said Tom Rath, a GOP strategist in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first primary. With a few paragraphs, he added, Bush "transformed the whole Republican race."

Bush's statement explained that he had talked with his wife, Columba, over Thanksgiving about their family and the future of the country.

"As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States," Bush wrote on Facebook. "In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.

"The PAC's purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America."

The PAC falls short of an exploratory committee but will allow Bush to create a formal political structure, not unlike what most potential candidates have done, using it to travel and get in front of voters.

"He has not made a final decision on the race," spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said. "This certainly represents decisive action in continuing to seriously consider this and moving forward to a new phase in his consideration process where he'll gauge support for a campaign."

Bush had recently talked about making a decision "in short order," yet his announcement Tuesday still came as a surprise.

"There was quite a bit of chatter coming from Romney world," said national GOP consultant John Weaver. "It seems like this was intended to clear the field in the establishment wing of the party. It's going to make it very difficult for people in the center-right to raise money."

Pressure was mounting on Bush to do something more substantial amid questions about his seriousness and whether he had the fire for a national campaign that will subject him and his family to intense scrutiny.

Bush, who served as governor for two terms, hasn't run a race in a dozen years and while he made appearances for midterm candidates around the country this fall, he has not tested the trail himself. Most other would-be candidates, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have made repeated trips to early nominating states and have long had PACs.

For Rubio, 43, the news carries added complications because he is close with Bush, comes from the same donor-rich state and must factor in that his Senate seat is up for re-election in 2016.

"Marco has a lot of respect for Gov. Bush, and believes he would be a formidable candidate," spokesman Alex Conant said. "However, Marco's decision on whether to run for president or re-election will be based on where he can best achieve his agenda to restore the American Dream - not on who else might be running."

A number of the other top-tier potential candidates also sought to project confidence. "The more the merrier," Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, told reporters in the Capitol.

Bush steps into the fray as a leading contender among Republicans, according to early polls. A McClatchy-Marist poll released Monday indicated that if Romney ran, he would draw support from 19 percent of Republicans and Republican independents, followed by Bush with 14 percent. If Romney is out of the mix, Bush is the leader with 16 percent, followed by Mike Huckabee with 12 and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie with 10.

That means the field is as open as it has been in a long time.

Major donors across the country are eager to back Bush and his announcement had the effect of telling them to hold back from supporting others. Many see a plus in Bush's executive experience and that he's not a fixture of Washington.

But he would face considerable challenges in a contentious Republican primary, where his support for Common Core and immigration reform do not sit well with conservative activists.

His business ventures in private equity have already attracted attention from journalists and Democratic opposition groups.

Then there is his surname. With his father and brother having already occupied the White House, do voters want another Bush? On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton would face the same problem.

Bush has talked about running a "joyful" campaign and recently remarked that the way to victory is to lose the primary in sake of winning the general, showing he was prepared to take the heat.

"Onward," concluded Bush in his message Tuesday.

Democratic National Committee communications director Mo Elleithee didn't see news in Bush's announcement.

"Isn't this what he's been doing all along?" Elleithee said in a statement. "I don't know what the difference is between 'thinking about' running and 'actively exploring' running, but I suspect it has a lot to do with keeping his name in the news."

Not long after the announcement, the DNC fired off a fundraising email that pictured George W. Bush. "Think about how President Bush worked out last time," it read.

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report. Contact Alex Leary at aleary@tampabay.com. Follow @learyreports.

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Bush's announcement

Jeb Bush posted this note on Facebook Tuesday morning:

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Like many of you, our family was blessed with the opportunity to gather together over the recent Thanksgiving holiday.

Columba and I are so proud of the wonderful adults our children have become, and we loved spending time with our three precious grandchildren.

We shared good food and watched a whole lot of football.

We also talked about the future of our nation. As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.

In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation. The PAC's purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.

In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.

Best wishes to you and your families for a happy holiday season. I'll be in touch soon.

Onward,

Jeb Bush

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Fact-checking Jeb Bush

Read PolitiFact Florida's notable fact-checks of and about the former Florida governor at politifact.com/florida. And for an interactive look at the Bushes, an American political dynasty, go to tbtim.es/bqw.