By Hastings Wyman –
The prospect of another Bush occupying the White House is getting closer by the day. Last week the Washington Post devoted a front page article to Jeb Bush’s presidential ambitions, quoting insiders to the former Florida governor who say he is likely to announce early next year, rather than wait until spring. He doesn’t want to give the plethora of other GOP candidates the time to hit up the big donors who might support him if they know he’s going to run and has sent word to them hold off committing to anyone else. Moreover, he recently lost 15 pounds.
So far, Bush is not acting like a candidate. On Monday, Dec. 15, Bush will be in South Carolina, an early primary state, to deliver a commencement address at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, but he will not appear at the state Republican Executive Committee meeting taking place the same day in the same city.
If Bush does run, he will become the immediate frontrunner for the Republican nomination, albeit not a slam-dunk. For starters, he’s the favorite, though not by a landslide, of Republican voters. The Real Clear Politics average of the latest six national Republican presidential preference polls shows Bush in the lead with 14.3%, with Paul Ryan, Chris Christie and Rand Paul in double digits behind him.
Moreover, despite being out of office for the past eight years, Bush remains the favorite of GOPers in his home state of Florida. In the most recent Florida poll, released last week by Saint Leo University Polling Institute, Bush got 34% of Republican support to 15% for Mitt Romney and 10% for US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), with the rest of the field in single digits. Moreover, the poll also found that Bush is the only Republican candidate who leads Hillary Clinton, albeit barely, in toss-up Florida: Bush 43%, Clinton 42%. Rubio does second best against Clinton, but still trails her 42% to 46%.
The first casualty of a Bush announcement would be Rubio’s presidential ambitions, at least for 2016. Bush has been a mentor to Rubio, who would not want to disrupt their alliance and friendship. In addition, Bush is 61 and the upcoming presidential election is likely to be his best, if not his last, chance at winning the White House. Rubio, however, is only 43, and has two or three good presidential opportunities ahead of him. Finally, Bush, who was a popular Florida governor, is substantially stronger in the state than Rubio. In an unlikely head-to-head between the two in a Florida primary, Bush would get 57% to 21% for Rubio, with 7% wanting neither.
In any case, says a Tallahassee insider who follows Sunshine State politics, “Marco needs some gray hair and experience in the Senate.”
While Rubio will defer to Bush for the 2016, he “wants to keep his name out there,” notes the insider. Last week, for example, he authored a foreign policy op-ed in the Washington Post, urging the United States to concentrate on defeating the Islamic State.
And on a less lofty level, his name appeared on a fundraising appeal to help finance the recount in a still-undecided congressional race in Arizona. By keeping his name in the public eye, Rubio also remains a potential running mate should a non-Bush win the GOP’s top spot.
Meanwhile, Rubio’s big job is getting reelected to the Senate in 2016, when the Democratic Party will be spending major bucks on voter turnout to keep the Sunshine State in its fold, as it was in 2008 and 2012. Moreover, under Florida law, Rubio could not run for two offices at the same time and the legislature isn’t likely to change that law, concerned that it might not reflect well on a Bush candidacy. Among prospects to challenge Rubio for his Senate seat are former governor Charlie Crist, who narrowly lost his gubernatorial bid in November, and Congresswoman and chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, although last month’s massive Democratic defeat on her watch took some shine off her prospects.
So look for a big announcement from Jeb Bush sooner rather than later. And let the games begin!