Former Florida governor Jeb Bush all but declared his candidacy for president, an early move that opens the possibility of a 2016 showdown between the US’ two most powerful political dynasties.
Bush, the son and brother of former Republican presidents, said on Facebook on Tuesday that he will “actively explore” a campaign for president, making him the first potential candidate to step this far into the 2016 race.
The announcement — more than a year before the first primary contests — could deeply impact the race for the Republican nomination.
He is the early favorite of the party’s establishment wing, and his move puts immediate pressure on other establishment-minded Republican contenders such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to start competing with him for donors, campaign staff and national attention.
Bush’s announcement increases the chance of a dynastic presidential contest pitting him against Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton — a former first lady, senator and US secretary of state — though a long and unpredictable Republican contest looms.
In contrast to the crowded Republican field, Clinton will be the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination, even though she has not confirmed her intention to run. Her husband, former US president Bill Clinton, defeated former US President George H.W. Bush, Jeb Bush’s father, in 1992.
Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for the 61-year-old Jeb Bush, said he has not yet made a final decision on whether to seek the Republican nomination. She said that he would announce his decision next year “after gauging support” for a run.
However, the statement by Jeb Bush, who is among the more moderate potential Republican candidates, is sure to 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.
Assessing the Bush family legacy, another likely candidate, Senator Rand Paul, said: “The question is whether people will tire of having one family in charge of things.”
In a holiday message, Jeb Bush said he had discussed the “future of our nation” and his own prospective 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,” he said in the message posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Should he ultimately decide to run, Jeb Bush can tap into his family’s vast political network, but it remains unclear how the legacies of the past two Bushes to hold the presidency might affect his chances.
His older brother, former US president George W. Bush, was deeply unpopular by the time he left the White House after two terms in 2009, amid fatigue over the Iraq war and anger over the financial crisis that triggered an economic recession.
However, recent polls suggest Americans now see him more favorably.
Conservative Senator Tom Coburn, for one, questioned Jeb Bush’s chances because of the lingering unpopularity of his brother.
“I just don’t see it,” said Coburn, who is leaving the US Congress. “There’s still hard feelings about George W. So you start out with a negative, because you’ve got the wrong last name. If he didn’t have that last name, he’d be a pretty good candidate.”
Jeb Bush has long been a favorite of establishment Republicans who care less about conservative ideology than reclaiming the White House.
In a race likely to include fiery conservatives such as Senator Ted Cruz, Bush will occupy the middle ground despite his overwhelmingly conservative record as Florida’s governor from 1999 to 2007.
He also gives his party a powerful tool for courting the nation’s surging Hispanic population.
Bush is married to a Mexican-American, speaks Spanish and has been among the Republicans’ most outspoken advocates for an immigration overhaul, including a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are living in the country illegally. He has also championed new education standards that have drawn the ire of conservatives who view them as a federal intrusion into local classrooms.
His road to the nomination might not be easy. Within hours of Jeb Bush’s announcement, the head of the Conservative Action Fund launched a petition against him.
“Together, we can stop a Jeb Bush run and give America a real chance to elect a true conservative president,” Shaun McCutcheon wrote.
He said his organization would “do everything possible to get the right candidate for the White House in 2016 — and Jeb Bush isn’t it.”
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