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  1. Florida Politics

Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in 2016? Some surprising insights

Published Dec. 23, 2012

Yes, it's too early to be looking at the 2016 presidential election, but it's hard to ignore that two prominent Floridians top the list of potential Republican nominees: former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio, 41, is the early favorite among Republican voters, polls show, and he is doing nothing to bat down speculation about running. Among the big decisions he'll face: Does he really want to leave the Senate after one term, because he could not run for two offices at the same time?

Bush, 59, hasn't been schmoozing activists in Iowa already, as Rubio has, but has drawn a front-page New York Times story about the potential of him running for the office his father and brother held. Among the factors he'll face: Is the Bush name still radioactive? Would his wife support it? Could it harm his sons' political ambitions?

Among all the pundit speculation about the two Miami-Dade Republicans, we conducted another Florida Insider Poll to survey the politicos who know Bush and Rubio best. More than 100 of Florida's most plugged-in political players — campaign operatives, fundraisers, lobbyists and the like — participated, and some of the results surprised us:

• 62 percent expect Bush will run in 2016.

• 55 percent doubt Rubio will run in 2016.

• As to who would be the stronger candidate, it wasn't even close: 81 percent said Bush would be stronger.

"Rubio will make 2016 noises and preparations to increase his profile and lay the stage for himself in case Jeb doesn't run. But if Jeb does decide to run, he will step aside, the same way he has said he would have done had Jeb wanted to run for Senate in 2010. Jeb Bush is heads and shoulders above Rubio, literally," one Republican wrote.

Another Republican: "Jeb is weighed down heavily — very heavily — by his name. I think out of the three (GHWB, GWB & Jeb), he's the most conservative and intelligent of the bunch, and he has some strong positives (record on education, how he handled the seemingly endless 2004-2005 hurricanes), but even I am hesitant about the idea of Yet Another Bush. Enough Bushes, Clintons, Kennedys, etc. Time for some fresh faces."

Participants in the latest Florida Insider Poll included 50 Democrats, 57 Republicans and nine people registered to neither major party. The overwhelming consensus was that Rubio would step aside if Bush ran.

"The problem for Marco Rubio is that he's spent a few years in the 'conservative golden boy' limelight. He's done the canned policy speeches at Heritage, done the roundtables at National Review. What is unclear is how he accumulates gravitas between now and 2014 when the GOP race will formalize. That is not a problem for Jeb," a Democrat wrote.

"Marco is only slightly 'stronger' due to Jeb's problems outside of Florida," wrote another Democrat. "They both would likely deliver FL for the Repubs. While Jeb is unquestionably more credible and 'Presidential' than Marco, the Bush name is far too damaged in Midwestern battleground states for Jeb to carry the electoral votes needed."

Mayors on TV today

Check out Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster today on Political Connections on Bay News 9.

The mayors were diplomatic about the future location of the Tampa Bay Rays, but they did acknowledge coveting some elements of one another's cities. Buckhorn said he would love for Tampa to have a bustling, attractive street like Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg and that he admires the strong arts culture of the 'Burg.

Foster said he would love to have a river running through downtown as Tampa has, and he would love to have a convention center.

One priority they both share for the Legislature is to receive authority for cities of a certain size to hold referendums on increasing sales taxes within their municipal limits, rather than countywide. That, they say, would be the most viable way to ultimately build a rail system that could run from St. Petersburg to the airport, to downtown Tampa, and then to the USF area.

The interview airs at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Crist and the NRA

As he postures to run against Republican Gov. Rick Scott, newly minted Democrat and former Gov. Charlie Crist no longer wholeheartedly backs the NRA's agenda. So Crist, the formerly staunch opponent of gun control, will no longer get the backing of the NRA.

Asked about Crist's gun flip-flop, the NRA's Florida lobbyist and chief Marion Hammer took rhetorical aim.

"Are you surprised?" she said in an email. "I'm not surprised that Charlie Crist is now joining the gun ban chant of anti-gun Democrats. Recently, Charlie Crist has been systematically turning his back on many things in which he has claimed to believe. He currently claims to be a deer hunter. I suspect that the only thing he has actually ever hunted is political office."

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to the Buzz. Contact Adam C. Smith at asmith@tampabay.com.

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