Jeb Bush announcement resonates with big GOP donors

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With his “actively exploring” announcement on Tuesday, Jeb Bush substantially raised his fundraising profile, all without raising a penny.

Among Republican donors, the reaction to Bush’s comments was swift; a combination of excitement and relief, says Anna Palmer, Kenneth P. Vogel and Maggie Haberman of POLITICO.

Leading GOP donors, they write, have been patiently waiting for Bush to enter the White House race. They see the Facebook announcement as a clear sign that things are moving forward.

At the same time, it became an immediate obstacle for Republican contenders. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio could find that Bush’s preemptive declaration has hamstrung their fundraising prowess.

“I think a lot of people are pleased [Bush] is taking the next step,” says former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour to POLITICO. “He has a following of his own, but I am sure there are a lot of people who met him when his dad was vice president or president who have followed his career who are very impressed.”

Although Barbour has not gone so far as to endorse any candidate, at least not yet, many other Republicans see Bush’s move as bothersome for the rest of the GOP field.

One of those rivals is Rubio, who would be impacted the most by Bush entering the race, according to Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg-based developer and top bundler for George W. Bush.

“They both come out of the same city and the same donor pool, at least in Florida, and Jeb has got a little bit further reach around the country,” Sembler says. “If I had to speculate, I bet he runs for re-election to the Senate and not for president.”

Although donors are optimistic Bush will launch a campaign in early 2015, until he makes it official with an exploratory committee there is little they can do.

In addition, Bush is beginning to lock up top GOP operatives and recruit senior staff. One such staffer is Heather Larrison, former National Republican Senatorial Committee finance director for the 2014 cycle. Larrison is working with Bush on a “volunteer basis,” says spokesperson Kristy Campbell.

Rubio, who worked with Bush during his two terms as Florida governor, says he has “a lot of respect” for his former mentor, but will not use the relationship as the basis for a decision to run for president.

“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,” says Alex Conant, a Rubio spokesperson.

Bush supporters see this latest move, along with his commencement speech in South Carolina – an early primary state — as part of an effort to increase the enthusiasm for a presidential bid.

“It is a temperature-taking exercise right now,” says Republican operative Tony Fratto. “They are going to find a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of people willing to step up and want to be supportive.”

I think Jeb would have a pool of backers that is much broader than who was supporting and even who was supporting President Bush the last time around,” Fratto told POLITICO.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.