Jeb Bush announced Tuesday he will "actively explore the possibility of running for president" after years of speculation over whether the son and brother of presidents had his sights too on the White House. His likely candidacy is expected to create a ripple effect among possible GOP presidential candidates given Bush's name recognition and ability to build a deep campaign war chest.
Bush said in a holiday message posted on his Facebook page and Twitter account that he had discussed the "future of our nation" and a potential White House bid with his family over Thanksgiving. "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. "In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America."
Bush would enter the 2016 race in a strong position, with recent polling showing the former two-term Florida governor in second place among likely Republican primary voters behind 2012 nominee Mitt Romney. Bush is also the top choice among those with deep pockets. At the Wall Street Journal’s recent CEO Council, 73 percent of CEOs said they want Bush as the Republican presidential nominee.
Bush announced at the event that he was thinking about running for president and that a decision would come “in short order, not that far out into the future.” Now that a decision is near, other candidates considered moderates, chiefly Romney and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, will be forced to weigh whether they think they can beat him, or if they should just sit the 2016 race out.
Another possible 2016 GOP candidate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said through a spokesman that Bush's decision won't dictate whether he will run. Bush and Rubio hail from the same state and may compete for the same donors. "Marco has a lot of respect for Governor Bush, and believes he would be a formidable candidate," Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told ABC News. "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."
Since the summer, Bush has improved his margins against Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state, senator and first lady who is presumed to be the Democratic front-runner but hasn’t declared. Clinton had a 13-point lead over Bush in a July Fox News poll, which decreased to 11 points in a September McClatchy survey. A Quinnipiac poll showed that lead dwindling to just 5 percentage points.
It's unclear how much a Bush candidacy would hamper Romney's ambitions. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is independently wealthy and need not rely on donors as much as others. Romney was also the clear favorite among GOP voters in a recent Quinnipiac University poll released with 19 percent support. He was followed by Bush at 11 percent. No other reached double digits. If Romney decided not to run, however, Bush is the top choice among Romney voters at 14 percent. Christie was Romney voters’ second choice at 11 percent.
“[I]t looks like Republican voters are favoring more moderate choices for 2016,” said Tim Malloy, the poll’s assistant director.
While that may be true now, there is still a long way to go until the nomination. And the primary process will favor figures further to the right, like U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Conservatives were already dismissing Bush before he launched his campaign. “Jeb is a very good moderate Democrat,” said conservative radio host Mark Levin, according to the Washington Examiner. “He's very boring. He doesn't elicit excitement and energy outside a very small circle of wealthy corporatists and GOP Beltway operatives. Time to move on.”
But the Wall Street Journal’s CEO poll bodes well for Bush, in that he can count on support from wealthy donors to keep him in the race. That means he is more likely to stay in longer than other candidates with grassroots campaigns.
If he can get past the primaries, Bush should have some appeal among Hispanics and moderates in a general election. His wife is Mexican, and Bush supports immigration reform and the controversial Common Core education standards on math and English adopted by most states. But these are the very same positions that would hurt him in a Republican primary.
It was Latino support that helped Bush win his races for Florida governor in 1998 and 2002. He captured 61 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1998 and 57 percent in 2002. In his failed candidacy in 1994, Bush won 71 percent of the Latino vote, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. The decreasing numbers may reflect the rise in non-Cuban Hispanics rather than any disaffection with Bush.
Former President George W. Bush has been supportive of his brother running, but their mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, has expressed reservations in the past. "I think this is a great American country, great country, and if we can't find more than two or three families to run for high office, that's silly, because there are great governors and great eligible people to run," she said earlier this year.