Jeb Bush to ‘actively explore’ run for president

In this Nov. 20, 2014 file photo, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush listens before speaking at the National Summit on Education Reform in Washington. Bush on Tuesday took his most definitive step yet toward running for president, announcing plans to “actively explore” a campaign and form a new political operation allowing him to raise money for like-minded Republicans. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday took his most definitive step yet toward running for president, announcing plans to “actively explore” a campaign and form a new political operation allowing him to raise money for like-minded Republicans.

In a holiday message posted on his Facebook page, the son and brother of past Republican presidents said he discussed the “future of our nation” and a potential bid for the White House with members of his family over 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,” Bush wrote.

He added, “In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.”

Bush’s announcement is sure to reverberate throughout Republican politics and begin to help sort out a field that includes more than a dozen potential candidates, none of whom have formally announced plans to mount a campaign. It overshadowed comments from former New York Gov. George Pataki, who told the New York Daily News in a story published Tuesday he is “very seriously” considering his own bid.

Should he ultimately decide to run, Bush can tap into his family’s vast political network, and his campaign would attract strong support from the same donor pool that other establishment-minded Republicans need to fuel their own prospective campaigns. It could also affect the plans of several sitting Republican governors, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker.

“I don’t think it will affect their willingness to run, but it will affect to some extent their ability to raise money,” said Fred Malek, the finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

A Bush candidacy also has the potential to affect Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who came up through Florida politics as a strong Bush supporter and is considering whether to seek re-election to the Senate or run for president in 2016.

Brian Ballard, a Tallahassee lobbyist who was a top Florida fundraiser for the last two Republican nominees, said he expected most major donors in the state would commit to Bush.

“He freezes everyone out,” Ballard said. “Florida will be off limits to other presidential candidates should Jeb decide to run.”

Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for the 61-year-old Bush, said he has not yet made a final decision on whether to seek the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2016. She said that he will announce his decision next year “after gauging support” for a run.

“This is a natural next step and represents a new phase of his consideration process,” Campbell said.

That phase will include an expansion of Bush’s political operations. He said Tuesday he will start his own leadership political action committee in January, which will allow him to raise money that can pay for his travel and the infrastructure of a nascent campaign, including office space and some broad polling.

Richard Schwarm, a former Iowa state Republican Party chairman, said he expected Bush to run in the Iowa caucuses, as did his father and brother. Schwarm was among the earliest supporters of George W. Bush, and among those who went to Austin, Tex., to court the then-Texas governor in 1999.

“I think if you’re going to be a national candidate you have to go where the ballots are and not be afraid to trust your campaign to Iowa voters, New Hampshire voters, Nevada voters and South Carolina voters,” said Schwarm, who considers Bush among his top considerations for president.

Tuesday’s statement is the most definitive signal that Bush plans to try and become the third member of his family to serve as president. In a TV interview this past weekend, he said he “would be a good president,” disclosed that he was writing an e-book about his time as governor that would come out in the spring, and promised to release about 250,000 emails from his time in office.

During his two terms as Florida governor, Bush pushed for large tax cuts, overhauled Florida’s education system and led the charge to eliminate race-based policies in college admissions and state spending.

Since leaving office, Bush has continued to advocate for more changes to the nation’s schools, including the adoption of new education standards known as Common Core. Those standards have drawn the ire of conservatives who view them as a federal intrusion into local classrooms, but Bush has continued to call them critical to overhauling the country’s education system, while seeking common ground with opponents by saying states should be allowed to develop their own education programs.

Schwarm said while Bush holds some positions that don’t sit well with some GOP activists, such as the Common Core standards, “I think they’ll realize his honesty and integrity on speaking out on his mind shows he has the courage of his convictions.”

“Iowans will give him a serious look,” Schwarm said. “And that’s all candidates can ask for. It’s up to him to make the sale to Iowans.”

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Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report from Washington. Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa.

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