WASHINGTON (AFP) - Jeb Bush, son to one former US president and brother to another, threw his hat into the ring for the 2016 race Tuesday, announcing he had consulted his family and decided to explore a bid.
“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,” he said.
The 61-year-old former Florida governor turned private investor is the first serious Republican contender to announce a likely run in his party’s primaries.
Jockeying is already under way to see who will challenge the presumptive Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, in the general election to decide who will replace President Barack Obama.
But the announcement of such a high-profile and popular politician essentially shifts the 2016 White House race into full gallop.
Other Republicans – and there are many contemplating a run – are on notice that the clock is ticking.
Creating an exploratory committee would permit Bush to start raising funds legally and traditionally signals the first official step in a presidential campaign process.
His statement did not officially announce an exploratory committee, but a declaration to “actively explore the possibility” is pretty clear speak in US politics.
“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,” Bush said.
On Sunday, Bush had said he would decide “in short order” whether he will seek to follow his brother George W. Bush, president from 2001 to 2009, and their father George H.W. Bush, 1989 to 1993.
When it comes to wooing the conservative Republican base in his own party’s primaries, he could suffer from his seven-year absence from the political scene and largely centrist positions.
In particular, his moderate stance in the explosive US immigration debate – he has proposed extending legal papers to some classes of illegal immigrant – may hurt his chances.
Bush is a mainstream Republican, seen as less ideological than conservatives like Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Cruz, Paul and another potential candidate from Florida, Senator Marco Rubio, have already launched leadership PACs – political action committees – fund-raising tools seen as steps toward a run.
Bush’s move heaps pressure on two Republicans viewed as influential party moderates: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and defeated 2012 Republican flag-bearer Mitt Romney.
Romney, a two-time White House challenger, has repeatedly stated he is not running for president, but there is a Republican movement to draft him for one final attempt.
In the primaries, the state-wide races which determine a party’s presidential candidate every four years, the Republican faithful demand conservative fealty from the candidates.
Earlier this month Bush openly warned about such challenges, telling a Washington forum that a nominee should “lose the primary to win the general without violating your principles.” In 2012, with Tea Party conservatives in the ascendant, Romney was seen as tilting far to the right to appease core-value voters during primaries, only to balance back to the middle in the general election.
Bush may face headwinds on several fronts, including Bush fatigue.
His brother led America into two wars that proved unpopular, and their mother Barbara Bush acknowledged last year that voters have “had enough Bushes” in the White House.
The younger Bush also shares with Romney a career in off-shore private equity, which may not sit well with voters. Bush launched the off-shore funds after his two terms as governor.
Multimillionaire Romney’s off-shore funds contributed to the ultimate failure of his bid by reinforcing his image as an aloof plutocrat isolated from ordinary American life.
Bush defended his own business dealings Sunday, saying: “I am not ashamed of that at all. Practical experience is something that might be useful in Washington.” He added he would end his role in the businesses should he officially join the race.
As for the 2016 race, on Sunday he told broadcaster WPLG-TV: “I have no clue if I’d be a good candidate. I hope I would be.”