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By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

By making plain what he has vaguely hinted, Jeb Bush has instantly scrambled the still-early 2016 presidential race.

Practically speaking, Bush’s announcement Tuesday that he would form a political action committee to finance the exploration of a possible White House bid is just a move — and an incremental one — down a path the Florida governor already seemed to be following.

It was a tiny step but left a big footprint.

The overt action banishes any doubts about Bush’s interest in running — doubts he himself had fanned by publicly equivocating about the personal toll and the political difficulties of seeking an office once held by both his father and older brother.

“The PAC’s purposes will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans,” Bush wrote in posts on Twitter and his Facebook page. “In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.”

The most immediate impact of Bush’s declaration falls on the many Republicans engaged at various stages of seeking the presidency. Some, like Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, already formed such “leadership PACs,” which function as the equivalent of a campaign-organization-in-waiting.

Rubio, who was mentored by Bush as he rose through the ranks of Florida politics, seems unlikely to challenge his former patron in a bid for the GOP nomination, though a spokesman said Tuesday that his decision would not be determined by who else is running.

Considerable pressure will also be placed on those competing against Bush for the support of the Republican establishment. The boomlet behind a third Mitt Romney bid is likely to lose a great deal of whatever momentum it had. Others vying for establishment support, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and a pair of Midwestern governors, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and Ohio’s John Kasich, will have to rethink their plans — or, at the least, the timing of their decisions — in light of Bush’s move.

One thing it is almost certain to do is freeze any serious commitments, financial or otherwise, from many of the party’s major donors, at least until Bush makes up his mind and the field of contestants is clarified.

That will free Paul and others, among them Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, to cultivate their distinctive constituencies among, respectively, the libertarian, Tea Party, and conservative Christian wings of the party.

Paradoxically, there is much that remains unknown about the prospects of a Bush candidacy, notwithstanding his household name and dynastic status.

The Republican Party is different than it was back in 2000, when it nominated Bush’s brother, George W., and vastly different than in 1988, when his father, George H.W. Bush, was the party’s choice for president. During much of that time, Jeb Bush, who left the governorship in 2007 after two terms, was out of elective office.

Many in the party have little use for the “compassionate conservatism” that George W. Bush promoted, or the pragmatism George H. W. Bush displayed once in office.

Jeb Bush’s moderate position on immigration and support for Common Core, a set of recommended national education standards, places him at odds with many conservative activists, a bloc that holds considerable sway in the GOP nominating process.

Bush has also pondered whether he can find joy in the ruthless and often mean-spirited business of running for president, a process that has grown even more relentless and caustic with the advent of the never-ending news cycle and hyper-partisan social media.

Presumably, his travels under the auspices of his new PAC will help answer some of those questions.

Meantime, on the Democratic side, the waiting for Hillary Clinton continues.

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.