Bush would start with Florida edge – Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Posted: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

If Jeb Bush is indeed running for president, he gives Republicans something no other potential GOP candidate for the White House has at this point: the best shot at winning Florida and its 29 electoral votes in a general election against Hillary Clinton, if she becomes the 2016 Democratic nominee.

And if there is one thing the last five presidential elections have shown, it is that without Florida and its haul of electoral votes, a Republican candidate has little chance of winning the White House. With other large states, including California and New York, already in the Democratic win column, Republicans need to win Florida and Texas to become president.

Bush would start a campaign with a major advantage in Florida over the other GOP contenders in taking on Clinton or any other Democrat.

Not only was Bush a popular two-term governor who easily won two Florida campaigns, he has bona fide credentials with Florida’s growing Hispanic community that few other Republicans can match. He has called for comprehensive immigration reform, is fluent in Spanish, has strong political support in the Cuban American population and his wife Columba is originally from Mexico.

“I think he has the best chance of winning Florida,” said Jamie Miller, former executive director of the Republican Party of Florida.

Early public polling backs Miller’s assessment. In a poll last summer, Quinnipiac University found no Republican candidate within 10 percentage points of Hillary Clinton in Florida — except Bush, who trailed Clinton by 7 percentage points.

Most other Republican candidates tested against Clinton were more than 15 percentage points behind, according to the Quinnipiac Poll.

Miller said Bush has a practical conservative approach that can win over Florida Republicans, but at the same time not chase away moderates and independents, as some of the other candidates in the expected field.

“He is the most conservative person we can nominate who can actually win,” Miller said.

But a Bush nomination is not a certainty by a GOP that has been splintered over the last eight years. Within hours of Bush’s announcement, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was casting Bush in a Republican establishment crowd that is running against the Republican Party’s Tea Party base.

Bush has run afoul with Tea Party groups on two key issues that will loom large in the presidential primary election: education reform and immigration.

Bush has been an ardent supporter of Common Core education standards and standardized testing in general. In Charlotte County earlier this year, Bush said that without testing to measure schools’ and teachers’ progress, “you really don’t care.”

Immigration could loom even larger. Earlier this year, Bush called for a compassionate approach to immigration reform that few national Republicans have articulated.

“Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony,” Bush said of undocumented immigrants. “It is an act of love.”

His early approach has also been unconventional. Most prospective candidates have been making regular treks to Iowa, the state that will kick off the 2016 primary season with its caucuses.

New Jersey, Louisiana and Texas Govs. Chris Christie Bobby Jindal and Rick Perry, respectively, and U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, have combined for 99 stops in Iowa since November 2012, according to the Des Moines Register.

Bush visits? Zero, according to the newspaper.

But neither Mitt Romney in 2012 or John McCain in 2008 won Iowa, yet each won their party’s nomination after big victories in Florida’s primary.

Miller said Bush may not be as strong in Iowa or another early primary state, New Hampshire, but none of the other Republican candidates could beat Bush in a Florida primary.

That could be critical, given the 2016 primary schedule. Florida will not vote in late January as it did in the last two GOP primaries, incurring big penalties for jumping ahead in the schedule. The Florida GOP has so far opted to abide by national party rules and wait until March 1, 2016, meaning all of its expected 100 delegates would count.

That could put Florida on the same day as Texas and Virginia. Even if a candidate loses in New Hampshire and Iowa, winning Florida, Texas and Virginia on what would be Super Tuesday would catapult a nominee to the delegate lead — the tally that is used to determine the GOP nominee.

Bush’s announcement Tuesday could affect many other potential candidates’ decisions, Miller said. With Bush in the race, many top political operatives in Florida and some of the biggest donors would be less likely to align with another candidate, out of loyalty to Bush.

Rubio could be among the most affected. Though Rubio spokesman Alex Conant told reporters that Rubio won’t make a decision to run for president based on who else is running, the fact is, many of Rubio’s biggest donors are also some of Bush’s. Bush has had a mentoring relationship with Rubio, encouraging him to remain in the U.S. Senate race in 2010 when few other Republicans thought Rubio could win.

Miller said there are only so many political operatives who can run statewide campaigns simultaneously in multiple states. Bush can tap those experts early, including veterans who worked on his brother George W. Bush’s campaigns, his father George H.W. Bush’s campaigns or his own campaigns for governor.

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