Jeb Bush's team is mounting a massive effort to ensure he wins the Florida vote both in the GOP primary and in the general election, The New York Times reports.
The effort has been codenamed "Homeland Security."
Bush is the former governor of Florida, but one of his expected GOP rivals is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who has been making a name for himself in the party, especially among the tea party wing and interventionists.
Bush has been out of office since 2007, but has been maintaining his political network the whole time. He hosted a recent staff reunion at Disney World and visited an aide on his deathbed, the Times reported. He also sends birthday emails for former staff.
While Rubio, whose parents are Cuban immigrants, has a natural connection to the state's Latino population, so does Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico. Bush also speaks fluent Spanish.
The $50 million effort to ensure a Bush victory in Florida promises donors and operatives face time and contracts for their support, the Times reports.
Bush is a Texas native, but has lived in Florida since the 1980s. Besides Rubio, other potential Republican challengers currently calling the state home are retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
But even if Bush wins the GOP nomination, he could face trouble winning his home state in a general election that has gone for President Barack Obama in the last two elections.
Demographic changes are partly to blame, but the Times notes that Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, barely held the state in his 1992 national loss to President Bill Clinton. Moreover, his brother, President George W. Bush, won Florida against Vice President Al Gore in 2000 only after a lengthy recount process that ended up being decided in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Florida last week announced it would hold a winner-take-all primary on March 15, 2016, which is the earliest date allowed by the Republican Party. That could give Bush a chance to establish himself early — or to recover from a stumble in Iowa or New Hampshire.
Bush's team is planning to raise massive amounts of money in the state while trying to keep Rubio out of the race.
David Johnson, who is close to Bush, is interim executive director of the state GOP, and has tried to discourage the senator from running, according the Times.
"I hope that is not going to happen," Johnson said of a Rubio candidacy. "It's going to cause a lot of problems in the state of Florida."
Rubio should keep his current position, Johnson said. He described the 43-year-old as "a young man that has a lot of potential."
Rubio has his own wealthy donors, including billionaire Miami car dealer Norman Braman, who has talked of putting up to $10 million toward a Rubio candidacy, the Times said.
Still, most Florida Republicans are lining up with Bush. The Times said that a dozen current and former state lawmakers said they'll back Bush because of his record of cutting taxes and spending.
"The political leadership of Florida is going to be with Jeb Bush," state Senator Jack Latvala told the Times.
Latvala often clashed with Bush as governor, but recently wrote his political action committee a $5,000 check.
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