- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Jeb Bush changed the contours of the 2016 presidential race Tuesday by announcing that he is “actively” exploring a run at the White House in a bid that would test both his brand of moderate-conservative politics and the continued mixed feelings the GOP has toward the Bush family.

The former Florida governor’s shadow has lingered over the potential GOP field for months, and Mr. Bush had stoked the conversations by laying out some of his early stances, including not backing away from his support for Common Core education standards or citizenship rights for illegal immigrants.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Mr. Bush went further, saying he talked the decision over with his family during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“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,” Mr. Bush said.

The move by Mr. Bush also is viewed as an early attempt to make sure deep-pocketed center-right donors and fundraisers don’t sign up with other potential candidates, and to try to secure the mantle of the GOP establishment candidate — putting additional pressure on the likes of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and even Mitt Romney, the party’s 2012 nominee, to announce whether they will enter the race sooner then they had hoped.

“I think that is going to force the hand of other candidates to get out [into the race] earlier than they want to,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a veteran GOP fundraiser. “It also puts a fair amount of pressure on donors to make a decision now that they wanted to make later.”

SEE ALSO: Jeb Bush may follow Mitt Romney script to Republican nomination

Political observers, meanwhile, said that the move will have little, if any, immediate impact on Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and some of the others eying bids, who will largely be competing for support among tea partyers, grass-roots conservatives and libertarians.

Mr. Bush has some obstacles to overcome, including how his brother, George W. Bush, helped fuel the rise of the tea party, which blamed him for abandoning small government policies and basically doubling the national debt.

Hogan Gidley, a GOP strategist who worked on Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential campaign, said Mr. Bush’s support of K-12 education standards, known as Common Core, and his support of some sort of legalization for illegal immigrants, will put a dent in his ability to win over party activists in the early primary states.

“The difference between Jeb Bush and the rest of the field is that he could have the money to overcome that early on,” Mr. Gidley said. “The problem is that the activist class is so riled up about the pistons Jeb Bush supports that he may have the money, but he might not get the votes.”

“I don’t know where Jeb Bush is going to get the votes at this point, because he is not going to win Iowa — not even close,” he said. “He is not going to win New Hampshire — not even close. He is probably not going to win South Carolina either. So where is he going to take a stand?”

A Tuesday ABC NEWS/Washington Post poll found that Mr. Bush was the man to beat in a race without Mr. Romney. The poll, though, also found that Mr. Bush’s support sank from 18 percent among “moderate” voters to 12 percent among “very conservative” voters.

SEE ALSO: Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush lead GOP 2016 field

On Tuesday, Mr. Bush said he will establish a leadership political action committee next month “that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation.”

Tom Rath, a political power broker in New Hampshire who served as a campaign adviser to Mr. Romney as well as to George W. Bush, said the announcement “is the single most important transformative event that has happened in the Republican field to date.”

“He has a record of accomplish[ment] and [a] political pedigree that is probably unmatched in this field,” Mr. Rath said.

Assuming Mr. Romney does not run, Mr. Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general, said supporters would likely flock to Mr. Bush.

Over the weekend, Mr. Bush signaled he was moving closer to a bid, telling a television station that he plans to release a cache of 250,000 emails from his days as governor and an e-book spelling out his policy positions.

He dropped additional hints in a commencement address Monday at the University of South Carolina, which put him in the state that traditionally plays host to the third stop on the nomination calendar.

Ana Navarro, a close Bush confidante, said he is “dead serious about exploring and taking the necessary steps toward a presidential run.”

“What Jeb brings to the table is that he is a pretty complete package. He has executive and crisis management experience, a record to stand on, the ability to lead a diverse state, intellectual depth and curiosity, public and private sector success, domestic and foreign policy bona fides,” she said. “And he has the character and temperament to be president. People can disagree with or question Jeb Bush’s positions, but few will question his qualifications. Plain and simple, the guy has gravitas.”

The brother and son of former presidents, Mr. Bush would be able to tap into a deep national network of political consultants and donors.

“He has a particularly strong base in Florida of donors who will be very excited about a favorite son candidate,” said Fred Malek, who served as national co-chair of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and as finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association. “He will by far have the largest capacity to raise money in Florida.”

Mr. Malek, who served under President George H.W. Bush, shrugged off the idea that the Bush name would drag down his potential candidacy, saying he thinks the nation would be open to having another Bush in the White House after the Obama administration.

“Four years ago, I would have said it could weigh him down, but today I won’t, because we have had six years of presidency that has people yearning for a return to the Bush years,” he said. “I think the Bush name now is more of a plus than a minus.”

The Bush announcement also sets up the possibility of a heavyweight political matchup with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who appears to be interested in following in the footsteps of her husband, Bill Clinton, by laying the groundwork for a run.

“I think it will be a very tight race between Jeb and Hillary,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat.

Mr. Nelson said that Mr. Bush’s reservoir of support in Florida would make him a particular threat to Mrs. Clinton because of the pivotal nature of the state and its 29 electoral votes.

“If the Democrat wins Florida in the next presidential election, that’s it,” he said. “The Republican would have to win Ohio and maybe Pennsylvania to offset the loss of Florida.”

Mr. Bush is leading the pack of likely GOP contenders in the latest Real Clear Politics average of national polls, but he is running fourth in Iowa and second in New Hampshire — the states that host the first two contests of the primary calendar.

Some analysts had predicted that should Mr. Bush run, Mr. Rubio, who is from Florida, would not.

But Alex Conant, a Rubio spokesman, downplayed the idea that the decisions are linked.

“Marco has a lot of respect for Governor Bush and believes he would be a formidable candidate,” Mr. 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.”

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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