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MIAMI – Jeb Bush gets the question at just about every public appearance these days: Will you run for president?
The former Florida governor gives a well-worn answer: “I can honestly tell you that I don’t know what I’m going to do.” It’s an answer that won’t satisfy the GOP faithful for much longer.
The scion of the Bush political dynasty will likely be asked the question many times in the coming weeks as he raises his profile with appearances in Tennessee, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas — where he’ll bump into another possible 2016 presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Bush’s “yes” or “no” is one of the most significant factors looming over the 2016 Republican presidential contest. A White House bid by the brother and son of presidents would shake up a wide-open GOP field, attract a legion of big-money donors and set up a showdown with the influential Tea Party movement.
Bush has said he’ll make a decision by the end of the year.
With New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie facing multiple investigations, many Republicans see Bush as a potent alternative: a two-term GOP governor who thrived in the nation’s largest swing state and could make the party more inclusive.
Friends and advisers say he is seriously considering a presidential run. His schedule will do little to quiet speculation.
This month, Bush is expected to visit New Mexico and Nevada to campaign for Republican governors there, even though both incumbents are widely expected to cruise to re-election. In Las Vegas, he’ll address leaders of the Republican Jewish Coalition, an influential group backed by casino magnate and GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson.
Bush is scheduled to co-host an education conference in Dallas next week, where Clinton is also set to appear.
With no clear front-runner for the GOP nomination, Bush’s standing is rising in early presidential polls and among donors. “Jeb is striking a chord amongst many thoughtful donors,” said Fred Malek, finance chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
“He’s a proven conservative,” Malek said. “But at the same time, he is not viewed as extreme or an ideologue and therefore can appeal to the moderate element of the party as well.”
Bush would carry both the benefits and the baggage of one of the most prominent U.S. political dynasties. Its patriarch, George H.W. Bush, was elected to one term in 1988; his son George W. Bush served two presidential terms beginning in 2001. The family’s vast fundraising network and political connections, in addition to Jeb Bush’s own constellation of donors and advisers, could fuel a formidable campaign.
His mother has doubts
But the shadow of his older brother’s controversial presidency still looms. The family’s matriarch, former First Lady Barbara Bush, has repeatedly spoken of the potential for Bush fatigue, saying, “If we can’t find more than two or three families to run for high office, that’s silly.”
A Washington Post-ABC News poll this month found that nearly half of all Americans said they “definitely would not” vote for him for president. Nevertheless, friends and advisers say, he is considering a bid.
“He is seriously considering this, but he is not following the timeline that the pundits or the press would like him to follow,” said Sally Bradshaw, Bush’s former chief of staff.
Bush briefly considered a presidential campaign in 2012 but declined to run.
Allies and adversaries question whether Bush, a policy wonk, could stomach the hyperpartisanship and gridlock in Washington.
“He’s accustomed to moving an agenda,” said Dan Gelber, a former Democratic state senator in Florida who often tangled with Bush, “and I think he’s got to be wondering how he would do that.”