- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2014

While most of his potential rivals for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination have been busy barnstorming the early primary states, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has been missing in action in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Mr. Bush has not paid a visit to either state, nor does he have any immediate plans to visit.

That has raised some questions about his political future and puts him at odds with the likes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who hasn’t let an indictment for alleged abuse of power stop him from logging more time in key primary states.

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Over the past two weeks, Mr. Perry has been on the ground in Iowa and in New Hampshire as he looks to rebound from his disappointing 2012 presidential campaign and test the waters for a second run. The Texas governor was in New Hampshire again on Friday, while insisting he still hasn’t decided definitively whether he will run in 2016.

But showing the flag, more than two years before the presidential vote, in key states is seen as one measure of seriousness and commitment by potential candidates.

“Making an early presence in New Hampshire is critically important for the future,” said Michael Dennehy, a New Hampshire-based GOP strategist who is advising Mr. Perry. “Waving the flag for state or local party committees and conservative groups and helping them raise money will go a long way to developing relationships with key leaders that could serve as the nucleus of a campaign team. The earlier start you get, the easier it is to organize when a presidential campaign officially kicks off.”

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The opening primary states have seen a flurry of activity from a slew of likely presidential contenders, who have used the visits to score headlines and hobnob with local activists who could become the backbone of their presidential bids.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton plans to join the mix next month when she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, headline retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry — the largest event this year for Iowa Democrats, who are looking to defend the veteran lawmaker’s seat in the 2014 election.

Mrs. Clinton has refused to say whether she plans to run but is widely viewed as the clear favorite to walk away with the Democratic nomination in 2016.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden has visited both Iowa and New Hampshire once over the past two years and is seen as Mrs. Clinton’s biggest threat. Former Virginia Sen. James Webb Jr. also renewed speculation that he might take a crack at the Democratic nomination by visiting Iowa last week and announcing plans to visit New Hampshire.

The political calendar also gives 2016 hopefuls a ready excuse to visit critical states this year.

“We have huge opportunities for these people to kind of dip their toes in the waters, because we have an open U.S. Senate race, two open congressional races and you can help [Gov.] Terry Branstad with his re-election,” said Craig Robinson, a former GOP operative who now runs the Iowa Republican website. “So you can come to Iowa and make all these excuses [like], ‘Oh, I am here to do this, and I am here to do that,’ but obviously, you are here for yourself nine times out of ten.”

Mr. Bush is the most notable outlier among the likely GOP contenders.

Kristy Campbell, Mr. Bush’s spokesperson, said that the ex-governor does not have any trips planned to either Iowa or New Hampshire.

Ms. Campbell, though, pointed out that he hosted fundraisers for Mr. Brandstad in Miami and for New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown in Boston.

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