By Scott Powers and William E. Gibson, Orlando Sentinel (TNS)
ORLANDO, Fla. — Now that Jeb Bush has sent his clearest signal yet that he may seek to expand his family’s legacy in the White House, the former Florida governor must convince national Republicans that he is conservative enough to be their presidential nominee.
Bush, 61, announced Tuesday on social media that he is setting up an exploratory effort to run for president, after months of speculation about his plans.
If he chooses to run, Bush almost certainly would become his party’s front-runner. It would also raise the prospect of another Bush-Clinton matchup, as former first lady Hillary Clinton leads in all Democratic polls.
National political observers say Bush would bring name recognition, the support of the Republican establishment and fundraising prowess to the primary campaign. But he also faces widespread skepticism from Tea Party groups and many conservatives who have gained influence over the GOP since Bush left the governor’s office in 2007.
“The party has become even more socially conservative,” said Richard Semiatin, a political scientist at American University in Washington. “That’s a big problem for him. And he has to deal with the issue of: ‘Another Bush?'”
With family ties through his Mexican-born wife, Columba, his fluency in Spanish and long record of business and political alliance with Florida’s Cuban-American community, Bush has won widespread support of Florida Hispanic voters and leaders. That is a rarity for Republicans and a potential critical advantage to winning Florida.
In turn, however, Bush has embraced causes popular within Florida’s Hispanic community but not within the GOP, including a belief that immigration reform needs to include pathways to residency.
Bush also has become one of the early, consistent and strong supporters of a standardized-testing program called Common Core, which has fallen out of favor with many Republicans.
“If anybody can run as a moderate Republican in the primaries, it is Jeb Bush,” said Lance deHaven-Smith, a Florida State University political scientist.
Yet observers also recall a staunchly conservative Bush on issues ranging from gay marriage and abortion to taxes and regulation.
Bush’s announcement surprised almost no one, especially Floridians who recall him as a popular governor who helped shift the state to Republican control.
“I’ve always been very proud of our governor,” said Floridian Sharon Day of Fort Lauderdale, co-chair of the Republican National Committee. “He served us well, and he governed us well.”
But Mark Ferrulo, executive director of the liberal-advocacy group Progress Florida, wrote, “Floridians got Jebbed for eight years, so we know him better than anyone — and the last thing America needs is Jeb Bush in the Oval Office.”
Bush broke the news on social media Tuesday.
“I am excited to announce I will actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States,” he wrote on Twitter.
He also revealed plans to create a leadership political action committee for a possible campaign.
“In January, I also plan to establish a Leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation,” he wrote on Facebook. “In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.”
An exploratory effort is “usually the final step in the process that most candidates go through when deciding to run,” said Aubrey Jewett, a University of Central Florida political scientist. “It increases, dramatically, the likelihood that he intends to run for president.”
In recent days, he also has said he will release 250,000 emails from his governorship and is considering writing a book. And, the Miami Herald noted, he reportedly has lost 15 pounds in recent weeks in possible preparation for a run.
Republicans have a number of other potential candidates for the 2016 election, including Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, whose own policies have become more conservative than Bush’s.
“Marco has a lot of respect for Governor Bush and believes he would be a formidable candidate,” said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant. ‘However, Marco’s decision on whether to run for president or re-election (to the Senate) will be based on where he can best achieve his agenda to restore the American dream, not on who else might be running.”
Added Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver, “I know a number of people who are confidants of both: None of them dismiss the possibility that they would both run. They would do it cordially. They’re good friends. I think it’s possible, but I don’t think it’s likely.”
AFP Photo/Saul Loeb