Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's announcement Tuesday that he would "actively explore" a White House run in 2016 could set up a competitive contest with Democrat Hillary Clinton, but what it really does is knock Mitt Romney out of the running as the Republican heir-apparent, political observers told Newsmax.
"This is about Bush and Romney and the race for the biggest bundlers and donors in the Republican Party," said Bruce Haynes, founder and president of Purple Strategies. "What Jeb is doing is hitting the 'go' button."
Matt Towery, a GOP pollster and debate expert, said that the Bush move "would freeze Mitt Romney in his tracks, because Romney really can't afford to have a showdown with Jeb Bush."
"Bush wins," he said.
Kyle Kondik, a political analyst for the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, cautioned, however, that Bush "probably has a better chance than anybody else, but his odds are not better than 50-50 to win."
"It is going to be a big field," he added. "There's going to be a lot of capable people in the field."
In holiday greetings
posted on Facebook
and Twitter, Bush said he would "actively explore" a campaign and form a new political operation for raising money.
Bush, 61, son and brother of two Republican presidents, said he discussed the "future of our nation" and a potential White House bid 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 on Facebook.
"In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America," he said.
Bush added that he would start his own political action committee next month, which would allow him to raise money and use it to support candidates in other races.
The committee "will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation," Bush said. "The PAC's purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans."
Bush, who was Florida's governor from 1999 to 2007, joins a bevy of possible contenders for the Republican nomination.
Besides Romney, the former Massachusetts governor whom President Barack Obama defeated for re-election in 2012, contenders include Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida; Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin; and retired pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that he was contemplating a bid — a day after former New York Gov. George Pataki disclosed likewise
, basing his decision on visits to the early primary states of New Hampshire and North Carolina.
But Romney leads the pack, according to a Fox News poll released Tuesday,
with 19 percent to Bush's 10 percent. None of the others placed in double digits.
Excluding Romney, however, Bush leads the Real Clear Politics survey
average over the others, at 15.2 percent.
Clinton is far ahead in the Real Clear Politics
average for Democrats, leading Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren by 50 points, 62 percent to 12 percent.
Warren said on Monday that "I am not running for president" — and Clinton has said she would disclose her plans early next year.
In recent weeks, Romney has said that he was open to another campaign, but that he was waiting to see how the Republican field took shape. That's why Bush's Tuesday announcement was critical, the observers told Newsmax.
"There's been a lot of donors on hold," Haynes said. "The donors like Mitt Romney. He's the guy they know. He's like them — and there's still plenty of donors who think they can win with Mitt.
"The longer Mitt says he's not running, the sooner Jeb needs to say he is.
"He's done that now, and now the ball's in the court of the big party donors," he added. "Are they going to come out and give to Jeb or are they still going to stay on the sidelines? That will tell us a lot about the future of a Bush candidacy."
Multiple Romney donors said Tuesday that the former governor was less likely to run now that Bush has announced, since they would compete for the same donors and supporters.
Bush has already spoken with several major Republican donors, a top Romney fundraiser said.
"As far as the finance world goes, Jeb will be the 800-pound gorilla in the race — and Florida will be Jeb's," said lobbyist Brian Ballard, who was a Romney finance chairman.
Towery told Newsmax that Bush easily would have won a showdown with Romney, or any of the other likely GOP candidates for that matter.
"If Jeb Bush enters this race, as he is the establishment candidate, he raises the most money," even if he doesn't win New Hampshire, South Carolina — even the Iowa caucuses, he said.
"But he would win Florida, and Florida has a massive number of delegates. Florida, in this case, would go to Jeb Bush," Towery concluded. "Bush starts out with a huge number of delegates in his pocket that none of these other candidates would have."
Noting Bush's plan to release 250,000 emails
from his years in Tallahassee, Towery observed: "He's going to go through that shakedown, make sure he survives it — and then he would be off to literally the races and would certainly be, probably be, the leading contender on the Republican side."
But at least one likely challenger, Rubio, is undaunted by Bush's announcement, said spokesman Alex Conant.
"Marco's decision on whether to run for president or re-election will be based on where he can best achieve his agenda to restore the American dream — not on who else might be running," he said.
Cruz said that he liked Bush but that the decision on the GOP nominee should be made by the voters.
"I trust the grass roots to make the best determination," he told Bret Baier on his Fox News program. "We should be looking for whoever is standing up and leading, whoever is standing up and fighting the major fights of the day, whoever is making the case that the Obama economy is a disaster...."
Paul speculated that Bush made his announcement so early because "maybe he has more ground he needs to gain.
"He’s been out of this for a while, so maybe he needs to get back in and practice up a bit,” he said on "The Kelly File" with Megyn Kelly, also on Fox.
The larger challenger for Bush, however, is Clinton — and he can win, Towery said.
"If Hillary Clinton is the nominee, then you have a classic, classic Bush-Clinton showdown once again," he told Newsmax. "That would suggest a very close race and very competitive race — and one which he could emerge from as the winner."
But does the nation want another such showdown, Haynes asked.
"These are still two of the biggest brand names in American politics," he said. "The question is, is this the race America wants? Does America really want to see a Bush and a Clinton slog it out for the White House one more time? That remains to be seen.
"When you see the grass roots of both parties talking up other candidates, to the right and the left of them, with such passion and intensity, it certainly causes you to wonder.
"Bush and Clinton certainly have a leg up on being the establishment candidates in their parties," Haynes added. "The question is, now, who is going to run in that anti-establishment lane outside of them, and can they corral enough grassroots passion to make it a real race?"
He suggested that Paul's libertarianism was attractive to younger, more passionate voters — while Warren would bring out Democrats on the far left.
"It's game on," Haynes told Newsmax. "It's going to be passion versus power, and we'll see who comes out on top."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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