Within 24 hours of announcing that he is “actively exploring” a run for President in 2016, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is already said to be reaching out to – and is getting stern advice from – key Granite Staters.
In Auburn today, U.S. Rep.-elect Frank Guinta disclosed to reporters that Bush and other potential presidential hopefuls have already reached out to him.
“I have not spoken with (Bush) directly,” he said. “We’re trying to organize some time for us to talk.”
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Kelly Ayotte advised Bush to get to New Hampshire as soon as possible.
“He really hasn’t been to New Hampshire yet,” she told Politico. “I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to do the hard work in New Hampshire. With the Bush name, he’ll have name recognition. But again I think everyone will get an open vetting in New Hampshire and it’ll make a difference how hard the candidates work in terms of meeting the activists.”
Indeed, said Republican National Committeeman Steve Duprey, many Granite State Republicans will welcome Bush, but after that, it’s up to him.
“I think he can do very well here,” he said. “This is the most wide open Republican presidential primary I have seen in my lifetime because not only is there not an incumbent, but there is also nobody who is the heir apparent.”
Duprey, a close friend and adviser to two-time New Hampshire Primary winner John McCain, said, “You cannot come to this state and do high-level events where you have 2,000 people at Hampshire Hills. You can do a couple of those, but if you don’t sincerely engage with voters, you cannot win.”
Bush’s brother, George W., didn’t do that, he said, and although Bush won the 2000 nomination, he lost New Hampshire. Rudy Giuliani in 2007 is another example of how not to campaign in the Granite State, said Duprey.
“The key is how you engage with people, how you handle the heckler, how you deal with somebody who says you’re flat wrong,” said Duprey, recalling that McCain held more than 200 town halls in the state.
Bush today got the GOP presidential nominating process off and running. In the most significant development of the fledgling campaign so far, he announced on Facebook that he is “actively exploring” running for President.
Bush wrote that during the Thanksgiving holiday he and his family “talked about the future of our nation,” and, “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. He wrote that next month, he will establish a leadership PAC to raise money and “help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America….”
According to several New Hampshire activists, his post clearly means that Bush in fact has every intention of becoming a candidate.
“The fact is, he is in,” said veteran GOP strategist and operative Tom Rath, “and he is in in an unmistakable way.”
Rath said Bush’s visit this week to South Carolina, which holds the first primary in the South, “was a clear indication that he was more than just thinking about it, and it is probably admirable that they are not playing coy anymore. They are now very clear on this and it helps define the field.”
Patrick Griffin, another Republican veteran of numerous political battles, said Bush has now done what he can to make sure that Mitt Romney does not end up running.
“With what’s gone on in the last few weeks and the rhetoric we’ve hard from the establishment side of the Republican Party,” it is not surprising that Bush made the move, said Griffin, managing partner of Purple Strategies-New England.
“Bush has now said ‘check’” to Romney, Griffin said, “and now the question is, even though Mitt has a lot of people who would love to see him run, when a Bush hits ‘Send” on this kind of a Facebook message, and also announces transparency,” as he did earlier in the week, “a very strong chill is placed on Republican establishment money around the country.
“The question now is how quickly will the Romney effort dry up,” Griffin said. “My guess is that it dries up pretty quickly.”
But, said Griffin, “The loneliest man in America today is not Mitt Romney, it’s (New Jersey Gov.) Chris Christie,” who, Griffin noted, is viewed as a relatively moderate “establishment” Republican a similar vein to Bush and Romney.
Bush, said Griffin, is “a thinking conservative whose ideas on some of the key issues are ideas that the party realizes it must embrace, such as on immigration and education reform.”
Rath said, “Others now have to calculate a race with Bush in it as opposed to the possibility that he would not be in it.” “It removes a lot of the uncertainty, and the way he’s going about it may shut off opportunities for some who were hoping to be an alternative to him, and that may impact here in terms of the size of the field.
“Anybody who is thinking of getting into the race will have to re-examine their candidacy in light of this,” Rath said. “That’s not to say they should not do it, but they need to calculate the field now with Bush in it. The field is much different today than it was yesterday.”
Bush, Rath said, “is one of the few people who would run well here and in South Carolina, where he is well-liked and his family is well-liked and has done well there in the past.”
Bush, who was last in New Hampshire nearly 15 years ago (Jan. 15, 2000, according to former NHOGP chairman Fergus Cullen), moves into the field “certainly at the head of the list, whether he’s the frontrunner, I don’t’ know,” said Rath. “But the race is framed very differently today than before this announcement.”
Paul Young, a veteran of presidential campaigns dating back 30 years, said Bush “had a good track record as governor of Florida and has always been a good conservative. I don’t think that has changed and so he has the potential to be the type of conservative that can attract a broad base of support.
“He’s going to have issues to deal with on education and immigration reform, but every candidate has issues to deal with,” said Young. “The thing for Republicans to remember is that there are rarely candidates who you agree with 100 percent. The question is whether he can be a good leader for America and can he win in 2016.”
Guinta said the upcoming primary campaign is shaping up as “vigorous” and certainly “fascinating.”
But, like Ayotte and Duprey, Guinta said Bush – like all other prospective candidates – “is going to have to come up here and talk to people before he makes that final announcement.”
Rath predicted Bush will be in New Hampshire by the end of March, at the latest.